"surely bringing back the person who built the company can only be a better change and a likely source of improvement."
I'm not too sure I agree. Because Mr. Gates was also one of the people who made Microsoft what it is today. So isn't it fair to say that the current state of affairs is - to some extend - basically the fruit of his labours? With that I include the nomination of Ballmer by the way.
Thing is; I think the problem runs much deeper and is most likely actually a cultural problem. The way the company works which is quite unhealthy at times. First there's the common display of "knowing what's best for the customers" even though Microsoft is no longer in a position where they can dictate the market. Yet this is still what they seem to believe, you can see the examples of that everywhere. And it's hurting them. The most obvious example is Windows 8, especially if you keep the disaster which was Vista in mind. Worse yet: they got plenty of warnings up front but chose to ignore them.
And another example, in my opinion much more dangerous, is Visual Studio. Actually taking things so far that you're alienating programmers who actually work, extend and (to some extend) advocate your products. Not only that; also making it seem as if you care less about their opinion.
For those unfamiliar with this I'm referring to Visual Studio 2012 which was designed with the look and feel of Windows 8 in mind. So a "ribbon-like" menu structure (pull down menus with EASY TO READ NAMES), no colour in the icons (small black shapes) and even the environment itself used to have but two colour schemes and both actually managed to give me a headache.They even made sure to remove the macro editor so that you cannot automate certain tasks in the editor. Thousands of developers cried out in pain.
In all fairness Microsoft did fix some of those problems, to an extend where (in my opinion of course) working with VS2012 became bearable and to some extend enjoyable. Even so; most still prefer the previous version 2010. So where do we stand now? Simple: if you got a VS2012 license and don't like it then Microsoft has provided a new "solution": the option to buy yourself Visual Studio 2013. And of course; being a licensed Visual Studio user / owner doesn't grant you any favours like discounts or such. No, you'll just have to cough up the full price again.
Another thing to note: where VS2010 "lasted" approx. 2 years the lice cycle has decreased with Visual Studio 2012 as well.
So why did this nonsense happen in the first place? In my opinion it's the company culture. Departments which don't necessarily co-exist or try to extend or improve on each other but instead actually compete within the company hierarchy. Right up to a point where one department would have no problems at all with screwing the other over. Even though, in the end, it would most likely hurt the company as a whole.
A mindset which, as far as I know, can absolutely be traced back to Gates himself.
Microsoft needs to start thinking about their users and fanbase alike, because alienating them as they do now is not very healthy. Because if you turn out to be an unreliable partner or supplier then sooner or later people will start to abandon you. And once they do it'll be a whole lot harder to win them back; it's easier to make sure they stay onboard the bandwagon.
The main difference should be obvious: back in the days people had little alternatives but to get Windows. But that has changed dramatically.
No sneer what so ever: but there are plenty of Apple and Linux users out there who started using those environments for the sole reason of : "It's not Microsoft Windows". Worse yet: I'm convinced that many Window users, even the ones who actually like the environment, could sympathize with those people. Not necessarily agree, but you knew very well where it came from..
THAT is not good for business, not at all.
I think Microsoft should not fall back to relics from the past but instead focus on the future. They need a drastic change in their company culture as well as the way they deal with their customers. Otherwise I don't think this is going to end well.