NEW YORK – He has been inching out of the picture for years, but Friday Bill Gates officially left the company he founded and handed over the reigns to his university friend and current CEO, Steve Ballmer.It is an important day for the Microsoft community and potentially for anyone who owns Microsoft stock. As long as Gates was still involved there was hope that Microsoft could somehow regain some of its former magic and rapid growth. That now appears very unlikely.
Almost every tech watcher and analyst I have talked with say Microsoft can not catch the new technology powerhouse - Google. It is not just because Google is raking in the money. Analysts say the search giant's greatest advantage is its ability to attract the best and brightest young tech minds out there.
The next Bill Gates if you will. That type of genius is rare and not something that can be purchased. Right now, the next generation of young pioneers is flocking to Google (or as we may soon discover trying to launch their own companies from the garage). They are not submitting applications to Microsoft.
That is not to say that Microsoft is going to just die on the vine. The company has a huge amount of capital and talented employees. Analysts say if Microsoft forgets about trying to buy their way into search or digital music and just concentrates on what it does best - building operating systems - it can prosper. But few think they will be a disruptive force again. As technology companies mature they tend to lose their innovative edge and become more like utilities. Important and lucrative utilities, but utilities nonetheless.
As one tech watcher said to me, "no one is asking if IBM is going to catch Google." Soon we may not be using Microsoft in that sentence either.
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