In any era of change, there are bound to be many stories underscoring tension and difficulty as well as others pointing the way forward and laying out the new vision. 2008 was full of these for Microsoft.
Bill Gates retired from full-time Microsoft duties in June.
The company is striving to find its footing as it shifts from long dominance in a proprietary client-server world to a more uncertain future where competition comes from open source, the Web and other corners. Old leaders are on the way out, while new faces and ideas are beginning to show their influence.
So, without further ado, the top ten stories of 2008 for Microsoft, still the 800-pound gorilla nobody can afford to ignore.
1. Bye, Bye Bill
There were plenty of changes in management at Microsoft in 2008, starting at the top with the company's co-founder and one of the most influential people in the history of computing. Bill Gates left his full-time role this summer as the company's chairman and chief architect to spend more time with his charitable foundation.
Microsoft rang in the new year as it has for a number of years, with Gates giving an address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, including a humorous video anticipating Gates' last day at the company.
Microsoft also made its own glances backward and forward, telling InformationWeek that it was ready to move on. It's impossible to replace Gates, but the company is certainly doing its best to fill the gaps. And Gates wasn't the only long-time executive to leave this year. Microsoft president Jeff Raikes also departed, to be replaced by former Macromedia exec Stephen Elop. Management change was in the air from the beginning of the year until its end.
2. To Yahoo Or Not To Yahoo
That was the question, and it's still an open one. A 10-month-and-counting saga to acquire all or part of Yahoo, or just hire away all of its top executives, began in February as Microsoft bid about $44.6 billion for the struggling search site in order to shore up Microsoft's online search and advertising position and give it some good Web properties.
Quickly, criticism arose that Microsoft might not be up for the challenge that a Yahoo acquisition would represent, both in terms of integration and in terms of passing anti-trust muster. Google, which would be the chief competitor of a combined Microsoft-Yahoo, (Microhoo?) cried foul. That criticism fell by the wayside as Yahoo's initial rejection of Microsoft's offer and further meddling led to a protracted debate about how Microsoft would respond, including a bid for just part of Yahoo or a hostile takeover. Ultimately, Microsoft pulled out of the bid altogether, ostensibly wiping its hands of Yahoo and sending Yahoo spiraling down.