Ballmer apparently said to this large investor: "We did everything they asked for. We did a huge buyback. We did the biggest one-time dividend ever. And what good did it do us?"

Ballmer's right. Total shareholder returns, or TSR, for Microsoft since it initiated its stock buyback and dividend program are down 25%. For the last 10 years, TSRs fell 47% (as of early April). This includes returns from dividend payments (including the big, one-time dividend of $3 a share), as well as stock appreciation, over that time.

Is 10 years a sufficient amount of time for a shareholder to wait to judge a company's management team for how it has performed? Those TSR numbers are clearly unacceptable and likely reflect poor investment decisions and loss of confidence by shareholders in the future prospects for the company.

Over that same 10-year time period (again, as of early April), Apple's total shareholder returns have been 826%, Nintendo's have been 243%, Oracle's have been 166%, IBM's have been 3%, and Nasdaq's returns have fallen 37% -- all substantially higher than Microsoft's TSRs.

If the predominant Microsoft strategy of investing more in internal R&D, steering away from acquisitions, and keeping tight control of the five business segments has led to these results in the last 10 years, should shareholders expect that the same approach will lead to different results in the next 10 years? Are we being "short-termists" or "flippers" of the stock by pointing out these results and suggesting they should have been much better?

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