Hits and misses of the Steve Ballmer era at Microsoft

Hits and misses of the Steve Ballmer era at Microsoft
Photo provided by MGN Online

POSTED: Sunday, August 25, 2013 - 5:00am

UPDATED: Sunday, August 25, 2013 - 5:04am

Poor Steve Ballmer. The burly Microsoft CEO, who announced Friday that he will retire next year, has been the victim of some unfortunate timing.

When he took over leadership of Microsoft in 2000 Ballmer had to follow iconic co-founder Bill Gates, who had built the software titan into the most valuable company in the world. Then Ballmer was blindsided by the swift rise of Steve Jobs and Apple, whose iPod, iPhone and iPad led a mobile revolution and made Microsoft appear slow and out of touch.

More recently, Ballmer has been credited for re-imagining the company's core product with the bold Windows 8 operating system and leading a 2013 revival of the company's once-flagging stock.

Under his reign, Microsoft has a mixed record of success with its consumer products. Here's a look at some of the company's more notable hits and misses of the Ballmer era.


Windows XP -- This version of Microsoft's desktop operating system was released in 2001 and used on more than 80 percent of PCs at its peak. The software also showed surprising staying power: Many IT managers, frustrated by the buggy Microsoft Vista, downgraded to the older but more reliable XP. Today, 12 years after its launch, XP still runs almost 39 percent of the world's desktop computers.

Xbox -- Launched in 2001, the venerable video gaming console and its successor, the Xbox 360, have sold more than 100 million units. Some blockbuster games, such as the "Halo" and "Gears of War" series, are available only for the Xbox. Its Kinect system was hailed as a step forward in motion-control gaming, while Xbox Live, Microsoft's online multiplayer gaming network, now has more than 46 million members worldwide. Microsoft will release its next-generation console, the Xbox One, in November.

Bing -- Ballmer in 2009 introduced Microsoft's Bing search engine, which drew praise for its attractive visuals and predictive-text features that produced search suggestions before users were done typing queries. It won't challenge Google's dominance any time soon, but Bing has emerged as a credible rival. It has gradually increased in popularity and now commands almost 18 percent of the U.S. search engine market.


Zune -- In 2006, Microsoft finally launched its answer to Apple's hot-selling iPod. But the clunky Zune line of portable media players never caught on, and by late 2009 their market share had dropped to 2 percent. It didn't help that at midnight on December 31, 2008, all of Zune's 30GB models froze up for a day -- a problem with the way the device's internal clock recognized (or didn't recognize) leap years. Microsoft put the Zune out of its misery in 2011.

Vista -- Released in 2007, this successor to Windows XP was an immediate dud. Critics complained about its cost, sluggish speed, restrictive licensing terms and how Vista aimed to discourage the copying of protected digital media. One survey of corporate users found only 8 percent said they were "very satisfied" with the operating system. Stung by the reaction, Microsoft rushed out Windows 7 less than three years later.

Surface tablets -- Again, Microsoft found itself chasing Apple, this time with a belated attempt to dethrone the market-leading iPad. Launched in October 2012 -- more than two years after the original iPad -- the Surface tablet was Microsoft's first attempt to integrate its new Windows 8 operating system with its own hardware.

Despite some good reviews, the Surface hasn't clicked with consumers. Microsoft earned only $853 million from the Surface between its launch last fall and the close of the company's fiscal year -- a small fraction of iPad sales revenue during that time. Said AllThingsD, "That's a particularly sad showing for the tablet, given the blustering smack-talk with which Microsoft launched the device." 

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