BREAKING NEWS: Steve Ballmer to leave Microsoft.

Next Monday is the "Late Summer Bank Holiday" the last public holiday in England until Christmas. It is traditionally celebrated by the formation of immense traffic jams and the arrival of floods. Here at the fast beating heart of TelecomTV's editorial department (and we are staying put in London, thank you very much) we were thinking of knocking-off early as the tooting of the Beer O'Clock bugle echoes around the Square Mile and a long weekend looms.

Then, suddenly, late of a Friday afternoon, a time normally of quietude somnolence and reflection after the frenzy of the workaday week, the wires are alive with the news that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is to retire within the next 12 months - or sooner if a replacement can be found.

Surely it won't take that long, will it?

Steve Ballmer has been head hocho at Microsoft since Bill Gates stepped down in January 2000. He has been a contentious figure throughout his long tenure and for every person who will rue his departure and miss him there will be at least one other who won't.

Indeed Mr. Ballmer has long been the epitome of the imperial (and imperious) CEO - something of which I have direct experience and have never forgotten. But more of that anon.

Since he was parachuted into the hot seat Microsoft's stock price has fallen from grace and shares are down by 36 per cent overall. Microsoft has continued to make cash by the shed load whilst simultaneously being stuck in a rut as far as market performance is concerned.

Microsoft's last set of quarterly results made for dismal reading.

Ballmer has for several years now been trying to turn Microsoft from a pure software play into an organisation equally good at the provision of devices and services. He has not been overly successful and has now decided to walk.

The CEO has, so far, given no detailed explanation for his decision to stand down, saying only that "There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time." Whatever that means.

Whoever takes over will have his or her work cut out to transform a galumphing mastodon into a fleet and flexible front runner. That is going to take some major surgery.

Citibank analyst Walter Pritchard says that with Ballmer on the way out, "everything is on the table" with the next CEO "likely to have broad freedom to make changes to the business, including exiting businesses and returning more capital". It looks like we can expect that some of Microsoft's underperforming divisions to be told to shape up or ship out.

The markets liked Ballmer's decision to go and the company's share rose by eight per cent in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

I wonder where Stephen Elop will be 12 months from now?

See Steve Ballmer on form below - way back in 2007 when Google was just beginning to make a nuisance of itself. Here he's chumming it up with John Chambers of Cisco.

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