Microsoft's Ballmer Says Bach Wanted To Retire


That's the takeaway from comments Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made recently about the departure of Bach, a 22-year Microsoft veteran and head of the Entertainment and Devices division.

"Robbie Bach's been thinking about the possibility of retiring and spending more time with his family. He and I talked about whether we should go ahead and announce that now or wait until after Christmas," Ballmer told Computerworld on Wednesday.

With two major product releases to come later this year -- Windows Phone 7 and Project Natal -- Bach sure picked an interesting time to announce his retirement. Of course, in these situations, companies always play the "spend more time with the family" card, which is odd because it suggests that executives that aren't leaving somehow do not.

However, in Bach's case, there's no getting around the fact that Windows Mobile's demise has taken place during his watch. Microsoft is clearly getting tired of the steady stream of bad news on the mobile front and Ballmer probably just wants more control over the situation.

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There are other, more intriguing theories making the rounds. Horace Dediu, founder and executive producer of mobile consulting firm Asymco, believes that HP's acquisition of Palm may have been the final straw that prompted Microsoft to part ways with Bach.

When HP bought Palm, "Bach lost a key account; in fact, he could be responsible for having lost the biggest account that Microsoft ever had," Dediu wrote in a Tuesday blog post.

HP and Microsoft remain close partners, but the two companies' work toward bringing Windows 7-powered tablet devices to market, seen in Ballmer's demo of the HP Slate at CES, appears to be on hold now that HP has Palm's WebOS in its portfolio. In an appearance in Singapore Wednesday, Ballmer reportedly said Microsoft is focusing on putting Windows Phone 7 in phones and has no plans for tablets.

Microsoft is obviously disappointed with their results in the mobile and embedded space, notes Chris De Herrera, a Los Angeles-based Microsoft Windows Mobile MVP. "It's clear that Windows 7 is too 'heavy' of an operating system for the next generation of mobile devices that are smaller than current PCs and netbooks," he said.

The uncertainty around tablets and the leadership void created by Bach's retirement this fall puts even more pressure on Microsoft to deliver a solid product in Windows Phone 7. It's no exaggeration to say Microsoft's mobile future depends on it.

"Microsoft knows they have to absolutely nail Windows Phone 7," said Clinton Fitch, a Dallas-based Microsoft Windows Mobile MVP.