The D8 Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California has become a showcase in the highs and lows of corporate management. The most visible high was the kickoff interview with Steve Jobs, while the lows have included Rupert Murdoch's exhortations about the digital future while reading his comments off a paper notepad, and Mark Zuckerberg's meltdown in the face of persistent questioning about Facebook's privacy policies. An interview that, overall, fell into the "low" category was the tag team of Steve Ballmer and Ray Ozzie of Microsoft. During the interview, Ballmer demonstrated that he's seriously out of touch with both market realities and technology; in his mind, for example, anything with a CPU and a display--tablet, smartphone, microwave oven, you name it--is a PC. Ray Ozzie, on the other hand, demonstrated a much firmer grasp of the market, technology trends and the competition than did Ballmer.
Even though he's spent almost his entire career at Microsoft, Ballmer remains a sales and marketing person, not a technologist. He's the kind of executive that's best at milking a "cash cow", not driving growth through developing new technologies. Microsoft very successfully milks Windows and Office, but it's not growing, and it's falling far behind in today's and tomorrow's growth markets. Ray Ozzie, on the other hand, is a technologist. He seems to have a firm grasp of where Microsoft needs to go in order to regain its momentum. Unfortunately, the "Bombastic Ball-boy" either isn't listening or doesn't understand what he's saying. That's a big reason why there's been a steady stream of good people leaving Microsoft.
The best thing that Microsoft's board could do is kick Ballmer upstairs to the Chairman position, make Ozzie CEO and let him rebuild the organization to face the challenges represented by Google, Apple, RIM and who knows who else is coming up behind them.