21:15 PM

It's the year of the Monkey but maybe not for Monkey Boy...

by Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher.com

Is Steve Ballmer on the way out? That’s what one former senior MS exec told me when he returned from a recent trip to the Fortress of Solitude.

“One of the senior VPs discussed it on my recent visit, that the top two are butting heads and that one of them will go,” the former MS exec said. The understanding is that Ballmer will be moved from the CEO position. What is not clear is if Gates would then retake the chief executive post, a la Steve Jobs, and save the company with his genius vision. That would make for a great TV movie, I would think.

Inside the Fortress of Solitude, Ballmer is considered an incredible marketing guy--not bad considering he started off at Procter & Gamble, where he marketed brownie mix for two years. He is a "numbers man" but is not considered a visionary. And it has been noticed that Microsoft’s five-year performance under Ballmer has continually weakened and now it makes much of its money from videogames...

Ballmer certainly does see things much more differently than the reality of markets would suggest. For example, I mentioned one of Ballmer’s talks at a conference late last year in which he said PC makers should make $100 PCs, and that would alleviate software piracy in the developing world. He said this was an issue larger than the threat of the open source movement to Microsoft's business.

I would say this ranks alongside the comment by Kevin Rollins at Dell, saying the iPod is a fad...let's just say I'd be a concerned investor.

News.com: Dell's Rollins dismisses iPod as a 'fad'

If Ballmer is on the way to spending more time with his family, then that might explain why Gates seems to be everywhere these days.

Gates may have figured out that the future is not about marketing, it’s about being upfront and real. This explains his recent media training, and that he is reportedly a much gentler man, and one no longer easily provoked by exposure to others' modest intellects.

A man so humble that he even granted an interview to a blogger. And also a bit of roasting on stage from Conan O'Brien without flipping out or walking off. Interesting...

I’d love to test out the new Gates, see how long it would take to get him from 0 to exasperated red-faced screaming speechlessness… (PaulA.--could you swing this one? Pull some strings…?)

Here is a fun read: Jeff Pauline, editor of News.com on

Bill Gates' extreme makeover

News.com on Five Years of Ballmer.

Further evidence of Microsoft's tunnel vision...(from the Silicon Valley Watcher)