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Bill Gates's return may save Microsoft, but it's not likely

Some talk has been going around about Bill Gates making a return to help Microsoft rebound from its recent mistakes, but don't hold your breath.

Slow news days (a royal birth aside) can lead to bored reporters straying into speculation territory since they have no news on which to report.

The latest comes from International Business Times, which ran an article speculating that Bill Gates might have to mount up his white horse and save his faltering company from the bumbling hands of the man he picked to take over the firm more than a decade ago, Steve Ballmer.

The main impetus for the story is not rumor or leads from analysts, but because of what happened last Friday, when the company suffered the biggest one-day percentage sell-off in stock the last 13 years. After gaining a little ground in recent months, Microsoft backslid 11.4% in one day.

"As investors continued to show concerns about the standings of one of the most influential tech companies in the world, Microsoft might have no other option but to bring the man that guided the firm to greater heights. Yes, Bill Gates might actually return to his old post," the article said.

That's a bit of a leap there. Certainly, the stars are aligning against Ballmer. There were calls for his head more than once. Microsoft has made an awful mess of the PC industry with Windows 8 and its tablet strategy has failed. The recent reorg, as many people noticed, did nothing to put a successor in place.

Investors are losing their patience. Once again, the long knives are out at Seeking Alpha, with one blogger noting that the recent reorg puts 70% of the company's profitable businesses under an executive with a track record of enormous loss. Another flat out says Ballmer has to go, noting a lack of technological innovation at the company under his leadership.

And Gates would have a good reason to return. His charitable foundation is built entirely on his Microsoft stock holdings. He can't give away his billions if Microsoft stock keeps plummeting in value.

But the IBT article misses a key issue: Gates's passion. It's just not with technology, nor has it been for some time. His evangelical zeal is to save the world, or at least the Third World. He's not interested in cloud computing; he's interested in malaria treatment and clean drinking water. Look at his tweets. Do you see any interest in tech? Only tangentially.

To cure the ailing beast that is Microsoft will require someone with tunnel vision and determined enthusiasm, and I just don't see it in Gates anymore. Yes, it's his baby. Yes, it's his fortune. But he has moved on. It needs to be someone else - someone not invested in Microsoft, the way Lou Gerstner was not invested in IBM when he took over, to make the tough, dispassionate decisions that must be made.

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