How could a CEO inherit a company with as big of moat as Microsoft and not have piles of cashflow - no matter what he did?
That their profits are up 60% over the last decade, even despite the crash, is not entirely dependent on what he "inherited." Windows 7, Windows 2003/2008 Server, the recent versions of Office, and more.
Ballmer is not a "tech" guy, he's a numbers and business guy, always has and always will be. Keeping the profits trending upwards is his job and he seems to have pulled it off despite a lack of true technological innovation.
Up 60% in a decade? Thats maintaining, not growing for a tech company. Especially for MS, which could completely be attributed to more people being able to afford computers. The market clearly reflects that in their falling P/E over the decade.
> Keeping the profits trending upwards is his job and he seems to have pulled it off despite a lack of true technological innovation.
That statement is truly worrying. There is no such thing as a healthy tech business if all you're doing is 'keeping profits trending upwards despite a lack of true technological innovation.' It's too risky, and it's dangerous precisely because it's so comfortable.
If experience is anything to go by, Microsoft may well turn out to be the next IBM: large, profitable, and irrelevant.
DirectX -- nVidia and ATI implement Direct3D in hardware, not the other way around
.NET -- C# and F# are leading language development in many ways (not all)
XNA -- games for Zune, PC's, Windows Mobile, XBox from one suite of development tools and a consistent toolkit across all three
WPF/Silverlight -- it's what Flash 10 and HTML 5 are pretending to be
MS pioneered tablet computing
MS has technological innovation coming out of its ears. What's amazing about it is how poorly MS takes advantage of it
MS is in fact turning into the IBM of the software world -- large, profitable, and not sexy, but critical.
For that matter, IBM is far from irrelevant -- the technology that IBM develops and isn't bright enough to utilize for itself enables the rest of the semiconductor industry to compete with Intel -- including AMD.
Just like IBM, Microsoft is developing all sorts of stuff, some of it cool and some of it mundane, but both lack the vision to actually DO anything with it. That's what Apple is good at -- Apple doesn't develop much technology, but is good at coming up with cool things to do with it.