by Martin Veitch

Bill Gates on Twitter? Maybe Microsoft should buy the company

Jan 19, 2010
IT Strategy

When Carlos Tevez scored each of his brace of goals last night, there was in his gesturing and facial contortions something more than the euphoric, spontaneous release of tension that usually accompanies football’s equivalent of le petit mort. The Argentine famously swapped red shirt for blue in a close-season transfer, making each strike all the more bitter for United followers and explaining the histrionics on both sides of the Manchester divide.

Alerted to the fact that Bill Gates has made his debut on Twitter, I wondered if there was something of the same feeling at Microsoft HQ in Redmond, Washington. If not quite the heart-in-salt sensation of a football supporter watching a former hero returning to conquer, then maybe just a hint of ‘Et tu, Bill?’ The old Bill was synonymous with Microsoft and brooked no suggestion that there was other life in the software universe. Pretenders were cloned, trumped and crushed in a ruthless display of faultless execution. Seeing his face on Twitter looked like an act of treachery by those standards.

But today’s Microsoft has no equivalent of Twitter, not even a pale imitation. The company’s whole internet strategy smacks of cut-and-make-do and it could sorely use an injection of life. Knowing how tightly run Microsoft PR was in the Gates era, I half wonder whether, rather than an indication of zeitgeist, ‘Dollar’ Bill’s Twitter bow is a prelude to Microsoft doing something daring and buying the company.

From the SAP $50bn merger talks to the epic failure of the Yahoo deal, it’s clear that Steve Ballmer has the appetite for a large deal. Twitter would provide Microsoft with the lens onto the world that Windows, Office and IE once provided, a destination that cannot be ignored, a place to which we always return. It could also be a display case for new technologies and send out a signal that the old Microsoft of command-and-control and embrace-and-extend is gone, to be replaced by something more modern and loose limbed.

Today’s Microsoft doesn’t feel like the Microsoft of old and the protracted legal pursuit of Microsoft suggests there can never be a return to order. But companies can reinvent themselves and the simplest, fastest route back is the M&A road.