Of course Microsoft is not an empire that will fall quickly. We doubt Ray Ozzie will pull a Nero and set the Redmond campus alight or feed open-source advocates to lions (that's Steve Ballmer's job, after all). But the company is already showing signs of weakness -- Scoble was only one of many, many employees who are no longer satisfied by their compensation packages. The core business of the company, Windows, hasn't seen a major upgrade in years and the promised Windows Vista will demand top-flight hardware that few machines today can muster. The enterprise (or business sales) cash cow is bound to see more aggressive competition from open-source and web-based solutions, their Xbox division is still a money-loser, and DRM-crippled consumer devices powered by Windows Media haven't exactly caught fire in the marketplace.

In the interest of narcissistic disclosure, our past and present have been aided and abetted by Microsoft money since our mother joined the team back in the 80s. She joined the company when it employed all of 3,000 people, and left after it had grown by an order of magnitude to start her own company. Like Scoble and Gates, though, it was partly for personal reasons, and hers included a distaste for the changes to corporate culture -- the very changes that many pundits blame today for the lack of innovation at the company. Layer upon layer of middle management, the stifling of competition through acquisition and intimidation, an unwillingness to work with standards groups and open up the dialog with the larger software development community.

The company could reinvent itself after Gates' departure, certainly, but we don't see it as likely. It has spent much of the last ten years protecting its status as a near monopoly instead of investing in new ways of doing business and developing new technologies. With Apple offering an alternative for Intel-based systems and free, open-source systems driving most of the world's servers, some have predicted that Vista may be the last version of Windows -- ever. And it will be a lot harder to cram their crappy, bloated applications down our throats when they begin to lose near absolute control over the desktop market.

So yeah, we're biting the hand that fed us, but in an effort to escape the confines of the cage. We won't be sad when we get to tell the next generation scary stories about a giant, unfeeling monstrosity of a company that would do anything, above or below the law, to make ghastly profits. Welcome back to the Bay Area, Robert, we're glad you got out while the gettin' was good. As for you Mr. Gates, we hope your charitable efforts restore some of the good karma you'll need in order to avoid being reincarnated as a Word Macro Virus.