Bill Gates: Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

After 33 years on the job, Bill Gates' tenure as a full time Microsoft employee will end on June 27. Gates will still be spending 20 percent of his time on Microsoft-related projects, but the other 80 percent of the time he'll be working to change the world through philanthropic work, in ways that don't necessarily involve software.

Although Gates has already said he's not going to make any Hollywood style comebacks, even if Microsoft founders in his absence, we thought it would be interesting to look at 10 reasons why Gates should stay on as a full time Microsoft employee. And, although few would make that case that Gates' departure is a good thing for Microsoft, we're also offering 10 reasons why the right time for him to leave is now.

10 Reasons Why Now Is The Right Time For Gates To Leave

10 Reasons Why Bill Gates Should Stay

10 Reasons Why Now Is The Right Time For Gates To Leave

1. He'll Save Money On Gas

As fuel prices continue to rise, it's getting harder for working class stiffs to fill their gas tanks. And believe it or not, multi-billionaires don't much care for gas price hikes either. Sitting in traffic jams also tends to have a negative impact on both the environment and employee productivity. So when Gates packs up his desk and leaves Microsoft, it'd be a good idea for Gates Foundation CEO-to-be Jeff Raikes to consider letting Gates work from home, at least a couple of days a week. Apparently, he's a pretty good self-motivator who requires minimal supervision.

2. No More European Union-Induced Migraines

It's probably safe to say that Gates won't be receiving a 'Good Luck' fruit basket from the EU when he leaves Microsoft. However, the EU has been quite generous in doling out antitrust accusations, lawsuits, and fines to the software giant.

Gates used to be more than willing to lock horns with forces seeking to bring his company down, but Microsoft under Steve Ballmer has taken a more conciliatory approach. Still, you'd have to think that BS regulatory battles are high on the list of things that Gates won't miss.

3. No More U.S. Government-Induced Migraines

In the 1998 antitrust case filed against Microsoft by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and twenty U.S. states, Gates was portrayed as evasive and aloof during questioning. Instead of focusing on the magic of software, Gates had to submit to being grilled by regulators eager to find a crack in Microsoft's armor.

Gates' personal battles with the U.S. government may be over, but he'll still face the hot glare of media attention. In January 2007, the Gates Foundation announced it would review its investments after a Los Angeles Times investigation found that some of the organization's holdings were in companies accused of unethical practices, including chemical, pharmaceutical, and oil firms.

4. It's Time For A New Microsoft Icon

Only a moron would suggest that Gates hasn't been an effective leader. But according to some solution providers, Bill Gates role as a business icon at Microsoft has been diminishing for years, and it's time for someone else to step up.

"Gates has been inspiring, but it's time for him to pass the torch. I don't know that it's necessarily Ballmer. I think Ozzie could be more visible and that would be a good thing for the company," said one solution provider who requested anonymity.

"I look at Bill's role as a technology visionary and architect, and I don't see other worlds for him to conquer. He is at the top of the mountain, and I'm not sure there's anywhere else to go," said Jeff Middleton, a Microsoft solution provider and Small Business Server MVP in Metairie, La.

5. Steve Ballmer Wants To Fly Solo

Ballmer and Gates are good friends, but Ballmer recently said they're also like brothers. And within the fraternal relationship is where fierce competitive fires often dwell.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, the two tech titans butted heads for a while after Gates handed over the CEO title to Ballmer. So it wouldn't be surprising if Ballmer might relish the idea of being alone in the wheelhouse for a while.

"Gates as a visionary did well, but I think Ballmer is going to take Microsoft to a new level," said George Brown, CEO of Database Solutions, a Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Microsoft partner.

6. People Might Forget About The Mug Shot

Gates 1977 arrest for a traffic violation is probably one of the most annoying and persistent jokes he has had to deal with over the years. OK, so the fact that the seemingly straightlaced Gates actually broke a law is kind of surprising, and the Cheshire Cat grin is priceless. But c'mon, who hasn't run a stop sign before? It's not like he leveraged a monopoly market position to drive other companies out of business, or anything like that.

Leave Bill Alone! We mean it.

7. No More Microsoft Bob Jokes

Launched in the mid-1990s, this desktop interface designed for beginners is one of the most ridiculed products in Microsoft history. And in the "Bill Gates Last Day At Work" video, Microsoft Chief Research And Strategy Officer Craig Mundie helpfully points out that Microsoft Bob was the brainchild of Gates himself.

OK, so Microsoft failed at something. And Microsoft Bob was the first product that Gates personally unveiled. Big Deal. It's not like Apple has never screwed up a product release.

8. Windows 7 May Bomb Worse Than Vista

No, we're not using the upbeat, 'It's da bomb' connotation here. Some solution providers were unimpressed by Microsoft's recent demonstration of the touch screen technology that will power Windows 7, which is currently slated for release in late 2009. And while Gates has said he'll still be part of the decision making process of Windows 7 after he leaves, the upcoming OS will be the most closely watched release in Microsoft's history.

If it's good enough, Windows 7 might wash away the bad memories of Vista. If it's not at least users can draw pretty pictures with it.

9. Windows Vista's Sasquatch-like Footprint

For a guy who once made the comment that 640K of RAM "ought to be enough for anybody," it has to be tough for Gates to have witnessed the ever expanding size and memory requirements of Windows. Microsoft says it wants trim the size of future Windows versions and adopt a modular architecture, but adding touch screen technology to Windows 7 is, at the very least, going to require new monitors.

10. He's Already Shown He Can Change The World

Building the world's largest software company pales in comparison to the challenges Gates will face in his philanthropic work. But Gates has been battle tested from wrangling with the U.S. Department of Justice and European Union over antitrust charges, and that'll no doubt help him overcome the political and bureaucratic obstacles to eradicating poverty and improving the state of global education.

"The Gate's Foundation's efforts in global hunger and immunization are truly commendable. If he focuses on those efforts, that could provide him a legacy that outshines everything he did at Microsoft," said Andrew Plato, president at Anitian Enterprise Security, a solution provider in Beaverton, Ore.

10 Reasons Why Bill Gates Should Stay

1. Gates' Departure Could Rock The Boat

It's the problem every big company faces after a leadership change: Will the transition of power be orderly, or will it resemble a scene from Animal House? (Or Animal Planet?)

And, if Gates used to have certain executives' backs, what could be the impact of that lost protection? "When you look at someone like Ray Ozzie, you have to wonder, will the political forces that normally keep the gears turning continue after Gates leaves, and will he still have the same influence?" said Bob Shear, president of Greystone Solutions, a Boston-based Microsoft partner.

Some solution providers believe Microsoft should always have a developer at the controls. "Gates is a coder at heart and I think a software company should be led by someone that actually understands code at that level -- not an MBA," said Daniel Duffy, CEO of Valley Network Solutions, a Microsoft Gold partner in Fresno, Calif.

2. Gates Could Right The Windows Ship

No matter how Microsoft tries to spin it, Windows Vista has been a disappointment, especially with regard to business adoption. Opinions vary in the channel on how much work is needed to fix it, and many solution providers wonder if Microsoft will be able to institute the necessary changes after Gates leaves.

"I'd prefer to see him stay, because there is more innovation to be had at Microsoft, and I'd also like to see him driving Windows 7," said Alex Pearson, president and CEO of IS Systems, a San Antonio, Texas-based solution provider. "When you look at the history of Microsoft operating systems, every other one is a hit, and they seems to learn lessons from every release."

3. Windows 7 Could Be A Game Changer

Touch screen technology in Surface and the upcoming Windows 7 could give Microsoft a leading position in mapping applications. Surface's mapping application, which allows users to zoom in and out on maps and add personalized data for local sites, is already a demo with which Microsoft has found it can elicit 'oohs' and 'aahs.' And Gates has often been the one running those demos.

Gates has said he'll still be involved in the Windows 7 decision making process, but his departure means that someone else will have to handle the touch screen demos. Will that person bring the same youthful enthusiasm to the task? Or, more importantly, will they have the vision to explain how the technology will be used in the future?

4. Gates Learns From His Mistakes

When Microsoft was running late to the Internet party, it was Gates who urged his fellow executives to grab their helmets and get into the Internet game. Gates' famous 1995 "Internet Tidal Wave" internal memo is often cited as an example of his ability to identify missed opportunities and correct Microsoft's course.

Will the same level of introspection exist within the leadership ranks after Gates is gone, and will it be heeded?

5. To Kick Cisco's Butt In Unified Communications

Response Point, Microsoft's small business VoIP system, was supposedly a project in which Gates took a special interest. And it was Gates, along with Jeff Raikes, who spoke at the launch of Office Communication Server 2007 in San Francisco last October. Now that both of these VoIP proponents are leaving, it'll be interesting to see how Microsoft's 'frenemy' relationship with Cisco plays out in the unified communications space. How long will it take for Microsoft to drop the gloves in that battle?

6. Gates Loves Fielding Tough Questions

Earlier in his career, Gates was known as somewhat of a prickly interviewee who'd respond to questions he didn't like by saying 'That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.'' Although he's not quite as blunt these days, Gates still enjoys taking on the various myths that have cropped up around Microsoft, as well as explaining how the projects coming out of Microsoft's research arm will look as products.

"There's a whole new generation of small apps coming out that are going to require real insight and vision to explain, and I think Gates is really good at articulating what those changes will mean," said John Kistler, principal at St. Louis-based system builder J&B Technologies.

7. To Get Better At Guitar Hero

In his keynote at CES 2008, Gates was upstaged by former Guns 'N Roses guitarist Slash after challenging Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's EntertainmentDevices division, to a Guitar Hero contest. And in the "Bill Gates' Last Day At Microsoft" video, Gates is shown flailing away on the Guitar Hero instrument in an attempt to pester U2 frontman Bono into letting him join the band. For a company that brought the Xbox to market, Gates' inexperience with Guitar Hero had to be embarrassing.

If Gates were to stay on at Microsoft and devote more time and effort to learning to play Guitar Hero, while soliciting feedback from fellow employees, our guess is that he'd shoot right to the top of the leaderboard. But instead, he decided to go with the philanthropy thing.

8. To Lead Microsoft Into The Cloud

Microsoft's entry to the hosted applications space has been the source of much trepidation in certain parts of its channel, primarily because this has traditionally been an area in which partners have led. Some solution providers feel Gates' ability to explain what the future of application delivery will look like could help quell partners' fears.

"They've been a good partner in the past, but with Google and other services on the horizon, I need to get better insight into their intentions, or else this goes from a partnership to something else," said Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Fairfax, Va.-based solution provider.

9. To Finally Overtake Google In Search

Last month at The Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital conference in Carlsbad, Calif., Steve Ballmer was talking about how Microsoft wanted to buy Yahoo to increase its search market share and limit Google's ominous search dominance, when Gates chimed in with the following: "Guys like us avoid monopolies. We like to compete."

Taken out of context, the comment sounds like a candidate for most ironic statement of the century. Drilling down, though, the comment shows how Microsoft sees Google as one of its most formidable foes. And you just know Gates would love nothing better than to beat Google at its own game before he rides off into the sunset.

10. To Remain Close To Microsoft's Art Collection

One of the perks of working at Microsoft is being around the huge collection of art works that are displayed in buildings throughout the campus buildings. The Microsoft Art Collection, which was started in 1987, has more than 4,500 works of mostly contemporary art, and includes painting, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, ceramics, studio glass and multimedia works.

Of course, Gates and his wife Melinda have their own art collection, so it's not like he'll be suffering through some sort of cultural withdrawal after he leave Microsoft. But he will likely miss certain paintings on the Microsoft campus to which he's grown accustomed to over the years. Maybe not this one though.