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Microsoft names new CEO: guess who gets to advise him?

We no longer get any original metaphorical associations when we hear the word “Microsoft”. It’s close to what Orwell called a dead metaphor - in Orwell-speak, a metaphor that, through constant use, simply summons up the ‘thing’ itself, with no journey past the original flavours of the words it was constructed from.

Just as well. Nobody hears “micro and soft” and thinks “small and soft” before neurologically arriving at Redmond. And very few people, I imagine, hear ‘micro’ and get a whiff of early desktop ‘micro’-computer either. That name, originally coined to distinguish it from the ‘mini’ computers which preceeded it, seems to have fallen completely out of use.

Which brings us to Bill, a man now internationally known (I’d bet) as the nerdy one with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the couple ridding Africa of malaria. Like the micro he attached his software company’s name to, Bill is generally agreed to have fallen pretty much out of use too, at least as far as running a gazzillion dollar IT company in a fast changing world is concerned. Bill Gates is the man who originally thought the Internet wasn’t THAT important.

But we rise to the news this morning that he’s back and ready to help steer his baby out of danger by advising the new Microsoft CEO, whose identity was just announced.

As expected, there’s to be no surprise outsider from a parallel industry brought in to come up with a fresh perspective. And no surprise insider, either. Shortlisted candidate and former Nokia chief, Stephen Elop, didn’t get the big job but has been put in charge of Surface, Windows Phone, and Xbox.

Instead, Microsoft has named bright-eyed and bushy-tailed insider, Satya Nadella, as a replacement for the bull-headed bloke who ran the place for 13 years after Bill. Former Symantec chief, John Thompson, is to become Microsoft’s chairman.

Nadella is 46, was born in Hyderabad and joined the company in 1992. He’s got degrees in computer science and electronics as well as business administration. At Microsoft he led the server and tools business before heading up Microsoft's Cloud - the infrastructure which underpins Bing, Skype and Xbox Live.

But the real surprise part of the appointment is that Bill comes too. Gates, having stepped down as Chairman of the Microsoft board, is to roll up his sleeves to serve as technical advisor to both the board and to Nadella. In addition he has undertaken to spend more time on this role, less time on his other activities.

Apparently Nadella is very happy to have his old boss back and looking over his shoulder. “I’ve been fortunate to work closely with both Bill and Steve in my different roles at Microsoft, and as I step in as CEO, I’ve asked Bill to devote additional time to the company, focused on technology and products.”

To me, this tale sounds strangely familiar. Who was it who left the company he co-founded (albeit much more dramatically) only to return and rescue it a few years later? Why none other than Steve Jobs of course.

Could it be that Gates is determined to try to match his great rival by being seen as the man who helped (at any rate) to turn around his company by coming back and lending it some of the vision and technical insight that he used to make it great in the first place?

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