Microsoft today announced that company founder Bill Gates is resuming his former role as CEO effective immediately. The fate of his successor and now predecessor Steve Ballmer remains unclear; for the time being, he will be on "a temporary leave of absence," according to a statement from Microsoft.
"I intend to pick up where I left off when I stepped down as CEO in 2000," said Gates at a press conference at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash. "We have the talent and expertise here at Microsoft to be the top software company in the world, not just on PCs and servers but on smartphones and on tablets and in the cloud."
Gates said that Ballmer has done a "commendable job" as CEO in recent years during a time when the economy has struggled and the software industry has undergone tremendous change. "Windows 7 has been a huge success, and [Steve Ballmer] deserves a lot of the credit for that," said Gates.
Gates stepped down as Microsoft CEO in 2000 and, over time, transitioned from the role of full-time director and chief software architect to a part-time non-executive chairman. Instead, he poured his time and money into establishing and running the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which works to enhance health care and alleviate poverty in throughout the world.
"The foundation will continue doing its vital work under [Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes] and Melinda," Gates said. "I'm not at all concerned about the leadership we have in place there."
The stock market reacted favorably to the announcement, with Microsoft shares jumping 8 percent in early trading. Analysts, meanwhile, were cautiously bullish about the news. "Look, Microsoft has needed a change in leadership for a while now. Something should have given after the Vista debacle," said Don Simmons, an analyst at research company Desmond and Gourd. "Yes, they finally got it right with Windows 7, but now they're way behind in mobile and search and cloud computing."
Still, Simmons said that Gates is the ideal candidate to rescue Microsoft from a "third-world" fate: "Being CEO again combines two of his greatest passions: technology and helping struggling communities."