Vanity Fair revisits Microsoft, says Gates and Ballmer no longer BFFs

Schism stemmed from the Nokia deal, which only Ballmer thought was a good idea.

Microsoft Nokia sign
Credit: REUTERS/Markku Ruottinen/Lehtikuva

Two years ago, Vanity Fair turned its sights on Microsoft and painted a fairly ugly picture of a company in chaos, with fingers of blame pointed squarely at CEO Steve Ballmer. I said something contrary to that, and pointed out the good things Microsoft had done.

Right from the start it's clear this article, unlike the 2012 piece, was done with Microsoft cooperation. There's a picture of Gates and new CEO Satya Nadella smiling (sort of) for the camera from a Microsoft office. The two are quoted throughout.

Which is probably why this article is far less scandalous than the 2012 article, but there is one interesting tidbit: Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer are no longer friends, it seems. "They stopped speaking to each other as a result of the bad blood surrounding Ballmer's resignation," according to the article.

Ballmer does offer his side to the author, saying "I didn't feel completely in charge until Bill left [entirely in 2008]." But the real problem surrounds the Nokia purchase. The handset acquisition was Ballmer's bright idea and he was so confident that the board would go for the idea that he skipped a post-meeting dinner with the board to attend his son's middle school graduation.

The next day, the board (Gates included) informed Ballmer that it was against the idea. Nadella, too, was against the idea, which we have learned from other sources. "For Ballmer, it seems, the unforgivable thing was that Gates had been part of the coup, which Ballmer saw as the ultimate betrayal," the article says.

Ballmer reportedly threw one of his patented thermonuclear tantrums and told the board to do the deal or he’d leave the company. The board caved, and I'll say it again: that was incredibly stupid of them and they should have called his bluff. Ballmer was a terrible deal maker. Shareholders were already calling for Ballmer's head, and he would end up resigning just a few months later.

So while Ballmer is off playing with his latest toy – the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team – and Nadella found himself with a giant handset company in Finland he didn't want, Gates has made a quiet return to Microsoft. Gates had been pretty much out of Microsoft for some time, putting his full energies into his charitable organization. But with Nadella's ascension, Gates has "substantially" increased his time to assist Nadella, as he told Bloomberg TV.

One thing he does appear to be involved in is, of all things, Microsoft Office. You'd think Gates, who was behind the development of the company's first BASIC compiler, would be working with the dev team, or maybe helping the Windows team get their act together, but they seem to have done that on their own.

They didn't go into what exactly Gates is doing to make Office "dramatically better," as he put it, and that's something I'll be curious to see myself. Not to mention find out why Gates chose Office of all things to devote his energies and not, say, mobile or IoT.

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