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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made a surprise announcement today. He'll retire within the year after 13 years at the helm. Microsoft experienced strong growth under Ballmer. But as NPR's Laura Sydell reports, he's been a lightning rod for critics of the company and his announcement immediately drove up Microsoft's stock price.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Ballmer has an exuberant personality. At Microsoft events, the bald, rotund CEO is known for his on-stage cheerleading antics to motivate employees. Videos like this one of Ballmer egging on the troops have gone viral.
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STEVE BALLMER: Come on. Get up. Get up.
SYDELL: But Wall Street hasn't been nearly as enthusiastic about Ballmer.
DAVID CEARLEY: The changed happening now I think is a result of increasing an intense pressure from the investor community in particular.
SYDELL: David Cearley is an analyst with Gartner. Microsoft came of age with the ascent of the personal computer and it wove itself into all our lives with the Windows operating system. But the world has gone mobile and online. Apple has led the charge in mobile phones and tablets. Google's Android operating system is the lynchpin of other major mobile phone and tablet makers like Samsung. Cearley says Microsoft has been playing catch up with its Windows smartphone and its tablet computer at the surface.
CEARLEY: So they've been moving in the right direction. But the real question has been, have they've been moving rapidly enough? And they clearly had a blind spot going back a few years in these areas.
SYDELL: Going back at least to 2010, just a few months before Apple released its iPad, Ballmer sat down with NPR at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. People were buzzing with the excitement about the possible release of a tablet computer by Apple. Ballmer was convinced tablets would never replace PCs and laptops.
BALLMER: It's probably not going to be my major productivity device, but it's an interesting form factor for some applications for some people at some times.
SYDELL: This year, PC and laptop sales are projected to drop over 10 percent and tablet sales are expected to grow nearly 70 percent. There was also a lot of turnover among executives under Ballmer that some attribute to his hot-tempered personality. But many analysts defend Ballmer. JP Gownder at Forrester Research says revenue under Ballmer has actually tripled.
JP GOWNDER: He's done a great job of building enterprise-relevant products and services. Microsoft can be found in most companies, most workplaces.
SYDELL: Gownder also points out that under Ballmer, Microsoft's Xbox became the best-selling game console. Ballmer was Microsoft's 30th employee. Alan Dabbiere runs AirWatch, a mobile device management company, and he loves Ballmer for successfully taking the reins after founder Bill Gates retired.
ALAN DABBIERE: And the fact that Steve Ballmer was able to keep that company together through that transition, I think, is a real testament to some of his leadership.
SYDELL: Dabbiere believes that the right person takes the helm next, Microsoft could still be a major player in the new mobile marketplace. Laura Sydell, NPR News.
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