I'm in shock. It's the moment that a lot of the technology world has asked for and that day has really come.
It's a big deal and the entire tech world has been left reeling. The implications of his departure are pretty huge and it's like the entire technology community is taking time to process the news.
Here are some of my observations about the departure that are troubling.
Microsoft say they started planning for his departure several years ago.
In an interview with Mary Jo Foley, Mr. Ballmer said that the company had been planning this for a few years. He intimated that the company had been looking at (and talking to) internal and external candidates for years.
That's pretty strange to me. Even though the Microsoft business is massive, 4 years? Really?
It seemed abrupt
From the timing of it (Friday morning), to the manner in which it was done (sudden email blast that was open ended to the company), it didn't seem like something that was planned very far in advance. It seemed a little surreal.
It was announced before the Windows 8.1 RTM announcement
There are very credible reports that Windows 8.1 has been Released To Manufacturing - basically meaning that the "fix" or "improvements" to Windows 8 are pretty much complete.
It would have made way more sense for Mr. Ballmer to have been at the helm for a dignified amount of time after Windows 8 was "fixed" and then announced his retirement. Why the rush?
Mr. Ballmer did not seem happy about the transition
In the interview with Ms. Foley, Mr. Ballmer seemed a little sad and not quite ready for some of the questions. As Mr. Paul Thurrott pointed out, the CEO didn't have the usual bull answers that CEOs have on the way out after some time at a company.
When asked what he was going to do next, he had no clear answer - but we're meant to believe he's had several years to process this information.
There is no heir apparent at Microsoft
The most disturbing part of this announcement to me is the fact that there doesn't seem to be an internal candidate at Microsoft qualified enough to take over.
After decades at this company, it seems that Mr. Ballmer hasn't been able to identify a single internal person qualified to do his job. This is a damning indictment of both Mr. Ballmer and the company.
Why should we have confidence in the abilities of a company that can't do simple succession planning? Even Steve Jobs (an undisputed world changer and genius) had a successor!
Mr. Ballmer is not incompetent - just unlucky
In September of 2011, I wrote a defense of Steve Ballmer called my full-throated defense of Steve Ballmer. In it I played Nostradamus and made a prediction.
One more prediction and this is my personal view.
I believe that Windows 8 and the creation of this elaborate wide ranging architecture is Steve Ballmer's final act at Microsoft. I personally believe that after this is all launched and deployed, he will leave Microsoft.
Can I prove it? no but it's a very educated guess.
Windows 8 was a bold and somewhat visionary move but the problem is, it really didn't work. One of the things really smart people do is take risks and sometimes they don't work out.
I don't think the Windows 8 bet alone is incompetence. Those that know Mr. Ballmer speak very highly of his deep knowledge of the depth and breadth of Microsoft's business units.
My bottom line for investors
The bottom line here is that something happened that caused Mr. Ballmer to abruptly announce his resignation. The markets are jubilant but that is silly. Mr. Ballmer was only part of the problem at Microsoft.
This is a huge, talented albeit somewhat dysfunctional company.
For Microsoft's fiscal year 2013, the company's revenue, operating income, and diluted earnings per share were $77.85 billion, $26.76 billion, and $2.58 per share. This is a BIG ship.
I think it is foolish for the markets to assume Mr. Ballmer's departure MUST be a good thing. A business this large needs a very steady hand and the stock has the potential to drop even further if the next CEO stumbles.
For years, Mr. Ballmer has been the punching bag and people have said that if he wasn't CEO, things would be better. What would happen to the stock if Mr. Ballmer turns out to be one of the best and most stable things to have happened to the company?
I would not buy Microsoft stock regardless of who the new CEO was (well unless we're talking Elon Musk or something). At least not for a year after the new CEO is sworn in.
I will miss Steve Ballmer because once you got past all the stereotyping, bluster and bravado, he really seemed to know and love Microsoft.
Whether he or she knows it, his successor has huge shoes to fill.
Additional disclosure: I am the CEO of Learn About The Web Inc. - www.learnabouttheweb.com. While I have no business relationship with Microsoft of any sort, I am the owner and editor of EyeOnWindows - www.eyeonwindows.com.