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Post Ballmer, What's Next For Microsoft?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- "The launch of Windows 8 is the beginning of a new era at Microsoft. Investments we've made over a number of years are now coming together to create a future of exceptional devices and services, with tremendous opportunity for our customers, developers, and partners."

Those were Steve Ballmer's words only 10 months ago. So it came as a surprise to learn that Microsoft's (MSFT - Get Report) declared new era will be without Ballmer, who, on Friday, announced that he will be retiring in 12 months.

Several weeks ago, I asked rhetorically "Where's Microsoft Going?" This is a question that I ask every three months upon the release of every earnings report. And following the company's disappointing results for Windows 8 and its Surface tablet, it was clear that patience had its limits. And I believed that the company's board finally realized that if Microsoft was going to ever reemerge as a technology force, it was going to be sans Ballmer.

Under Ballmer's leadership, Microsoft lost roughly half of its value. And following his announcement Friday, given that the stock jumped 7%, which equated to $24 billion more in market cap, there's no point in debating that Wall Street cared very little for Ballmer. Although I haven't been Ballmer's biggest supporter, I've been nonetheless pleased with the manner in which he's been able to maximize Microsoft's profits.

However, that's the extent of any positive remarks that I can say about him. And given how dominant Microsoft was when Bill Gates handed over the reins in 2000, I believe anyone with an MBA could have grown Microsoft's profits just as impressively. You have to remember that PC sales grew at an average of almost 20% per year for 17 years -- from 59 million units in 1995 to more than 350 million in 2012.
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Ballmer, unfortunately, has been unable to respond to the decline in PC sales -- to put it mildly. And given his questionable history of execution, the Street never really bought into the idea that Widows 8 or Surface could compete effectively against the products from Apple (AAPL - Get Report) and Google (GOOG - Get Report). Although Microsoft still rakes in plenty of cash, success in the technology sector can be summed up in one word -- innovation. And under Ballmer, Microsoft has never demonstrated that it understood the meaning.
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