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Does Bill Gates Still Know What Computer Users Want?

Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, will work with Bill Gates to define new products.

  • February 4, 2014

In naming Satya Nadella as the new CEO of Microsoft, those leading the search for Steve Ballmer’s replacement have apparently concluded that a company being outmaneuvered on so many fronts needs some genuine technological expertise at its helm.

A 22-year company veteran who started out working on the Windows NT operating system software and went on to lead Microsoft’s relatively successful Azure cloud business, Nadella clearly has the requisite technical chops. And, given his particular background, the appointment could mean Microsoft focuses more on cloud and server software and services, and spends less time trying to, for example, outdo Google in search or Apple in mobile devices.

But maybe not. Perhaps the new role being taken on by Gates, who will step down from his role as Microsoft’s chairman to become its “Founder and Technology Advisor,” is meant to help Nadella keep an eye on the consumer technology market. If so, it will be fascinating to see what influence Gates wields, and whether he still has the expertise and insight needed to help Microsoft navigate the rapidly changing technology landscape and recapture some of the company’s old magic.

Gates is still a remarkably clever and insightful man, and few can be said to have had such a profound impact on personal computing over the past 30 years, as he helped Microsoft shape and then dominate the personal computing market during the ’80s and ’90s. But given how much time he has spent focusing on other ventures, it’s doubtful that he has the same vision and insight today that he did then. Would he have predicted the rise of social networking or mobile in the same way that he foresaw the “Internet Tidal Wave”?

In a video announcing his new rol,e Gates seems undaunted. “I’m thrilled that Satya’s asked me to step up, substantially increasing the amount of time I spend at the company,” he says. “I’ll have over a third of my time to meet with product groups, and it’ll be fun to define this next round of products.”

 For Microsoft’s sake, let’s just hope Gates doesn’t try to reboot Bob.

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