The year 2000 was a memorable one, not least as it marked a new millennium. Sir Steve Redgrave took his fifth Gold medal at the Sydney Olympics, George Bush battled Al Gore on his way to the White House, and Jennifer Aniston married Brad Pitt.
In the world of technology, the first-generation iPod was yet to hit the shelves, mobile phones barely fitted in your pocket and cloud was still just something that ruined your holiday.
Less than two weeks into the new millennium, the world may have been getting back on its feet after the biggest New Year's Eve party of its life, but Microsoft was still finalising its new year's resolution list - top of which was a plan to shake up the software giant with the appointment of a new chief executive.
At the time, the firm, which was then the biggest in the world, faced being split up by the US government, which sued it in a landmark anti-monopoly case.
Amid the legal battle, which was overturned after an appeal the next year, Bill Gates announced he was stepping down as chief executive and handed the reins to his friend and then-Microsoft president Steve Ballmer, who had joined the firm back in 1980.
More than 13 years later, after tripling the company's annual revenue to $19.9bn (£12.84bn) [FY13, ending June 30], doubling its net income to $4.97bn and becoming a YouTube sensation on a number of occasions, you might be forgiven for thinking Ballmer could retire on a high note. But when he announced he would be clearing his desk within the next 12 months, the markets cheered, and Microsoft's share price jumped following the news.
Ballmer could not do right for doing wrong, according to Richard Gibbons, Microsoft reseller Bechtle's software manager, who said some people just couldn't warm to him.
"I quite liked him, but from an industry perspective, [his departure] has to be a good move," he said. "A lot of analysts don't seem to like him, and it doesn't matter how much more Microsoft sells, for example, they will say it would be better if he was not there. Going forward, it makes sense to have a new CEO for what is almost a new company. Ultimately, it will be good for Microsoft if it can get a decent replacement."
A host of tech leaders from both within and outside Microsoft have been mooted as possible replacements. Some reckon Bill Gates will make a comeback, while others believe current Nokia boss Stephen Elop (pictured) - who is returning to Microsoft following last week's deal between the two firms - or former VMware chief and now-Pivotal leader Paul Maritz could be next in line. From within Microsoft, its chief operating officer Kevin Turner has been linked with the role, as well as current vice president for devices Julie Larson-Green.
Analyst Context's founder Jeremy Davies said whoever Microsoft chooses as its third-ever chief executive will be a revealing decision.
"It will be very interesting to see who they do get," he said. "That will tell us immediately what they are trying to do and whether they will be successful. It's make or break for them."
TechMarketView's chairman Richard Holway urged Microsoft to look outside the firm for a replacement, and insisted a "fresh brain" is needed.
Late to the party
Ballmer has been accused of missing the boat on a number of industry trends, and last year Forbes named him as the worst chief executive who was serving at the time. The departing leader was accused of failing to move with the times and arriving "years late to the market" with Windows 8.
The OS met a frosty response from the industry despite Ballmer touting it as part of the "new era" of Microsoft. It has been blamed for failing to boost the PC market, and its updated 8.1 OS is set to be released in October - less than a year after it first launched. The much-anticipated iteration is set to feature a slew of changes aimed at getting consumers and businesses back on side.
Softcat's managing director Colin Brown thought the update would have a positive impact on sales.
"I think it will fix some of problems Windows 8 has had," he said. "Microsoft insiders will tell you the devices work so much better on 8.1 so it's much more like a full user experience, which will positively impact on sales."
Microsoft's hardware assault - it has recently rebranded itself as a devices and services company - has also faced setbacks. Sales of its Surface RT (pictured) and Surface Pro tablets have been sluggish, forcing the vendor to slash their prices and absorb a whopping $900m writedown in its most recent quarter.
Following this series of missteps and blunders, Ballmer's departure will give the firm a great opportunity to reinvent itself and move forward, said Context's Davies.
"Ballmer is an institution, but the jury is out as to whether he was good or bad for the company," he said. "He started the reorganisation but I think this gives Microsoft the chance to move into the new era."
In his leaving announcement, Ballmer said himself that Microsoft needed a chief executive who will be around in the longer term to oversee strategy focusing on devices and services, and Westcoast's sales and marketing boss Alex Tatham agreed.
"I met Ballmer twice and he was enthusiastic and had lots of energy and drive, but it is time for change, and I think nobody would disagree. In my opinion, it's too important a company not to make sure they find new technology and new ways for us all to interact and make life simpler for the world."
TechMarketView's Holway added that he thinks Microsoft really ought to focus. "Microsoft needs to take a long hard look at the huge array of stuff it does, kill a lot of it and focus," he said on the company's blog.
In a recent blog, Microsoft's corporate communications vice president, Frank Shaw, appeared to criticise the mixed industry reaction to Ballmer's resignation, but the eccentric billionaire is not without his supporters.
Chris Baldock, managing director of Microsoft cloud partner Inty, said the vendor's recent financial results prove he is a good leader.
"It's easy to nitpick but, whether you score Ballmer's tenure in terms of profitability and cash generation - which is of course an obvious and accurate measurement of someone's performance as a business leader - or whether you look at the technology it's delivered... whichever way you measure it, a nine out of 10 would be a pretty accurate score in my opinion," Baldock said.
Putting all business and technology to one side, there is no denying Ballmer's value for money as an industry personality - famed for his enthusiasm and outlandish comments.
"I. Love. This. Company! Yeah!" Ballmer surprised attendees of a developers' conference when he jumped and ran around the stage, whooping and hollering, before professing his love for Microsoft. Footage of this got more than five million YouTube hits.
"I've got my kids brainwashed - you don't use Google and you don't use an iPod." Ballmer admitted he closely monitored his kids' choices of technology.
"It doesn't appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard and that makes it not a very good email machine." Ballmer famously dismissed the iPhone when it was launched.
2000 - Ballmer takes over from Bill Gates (pictured) as Microsoft chief executive
2001 - Launch of XP. The operating system has been cited as one of the jewels in Microsoft's crown, and in July this year - 12 years after its release - it still powered 37 per cent of desktops. Support for the OS is set to be dropped next April.
2006 - Zune launches. Microsoft's answer to the iPod was eventually killed off after five years on the market after the device failed to bite into Apple's sales.
2007 - Vista launches. In an interview with ZDnet on his retirement, Ballmer cited Vista as one of his biggest regrets. The OS annoyed users with continual security prompts, and now less than five per cent of desktops run it globally according to Netmarketshare's tracker.
2009 - Windows 7 launches. Windows 7 is currently the most popular operating system in the world. When controversial successor Windows 8 came to market, some users flocked to try and downgrade back to their old favourite.
2012 - Surface launches. Microsoft's first foray into the tablet space failed to set the world on fire and less than a year later the vendor wrote down the value of the stock by $900m after Ballmer reportedly conceded the firm made too many in the first place.
2013 - Windows 8.1 set for release. After Windows 8 attracted widespread criticism following its 2012 launch, the next iteration - Windows 8.1 - is expected to be the answer to some of the key problems users had when it is made generally available in October.
2013 - Ballmer announced retirement within 12 months
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