Shocker: Anonymous Microsoft investors want to give Bill Gates the boot

Is it times for Bill Gates to go? Apparently some Microsoft shareholders think so.

For the 13 years since Gates ceded his CEO slot, he stayed on as chairman of the company he co-founded but spent the bulk of his time on philanthropic endeavors. During that time there was nary a whisper of complaint about that arrangement. No longer. Three of Microsoft’s top 20 major shareholders think Gates’ time is up, according to Reuters which did not name the discontented parties.

If true, this is big news since there are many inside and close to Microsoft who would love to see Gates back as CEO, now that Steve Ballmer has said he plans to leave that post within the year.

The gist, from Reuters;

The three investors are concerned that Gates’ presence on the board effectively blocks the adoption of new strategies and would limit the power of a new chief executive to make substantial changes. In particular, they point to Gates’ role on the special committee searching for Ballmer’s successor.

They are also worried that Gates – who spends most of his time on his philanthropic foundation – wields power out of proportion to his declining shareholding.

I would bet that ValueAct, which bought a less-than-1-percent stake in Microsoft last spring and has been motivating for a more responsive board ever since, is one of these dissident parties, but no one’s talking.

Such activism signals that not even the sainted Gates is immune from immense shareholder dissatisfaction with the company’s performance for the past decade. Ballmer has been the whipping boy on most of Microsoft’s’ struggles but several former Microsoft execs  noted not too long ago that Gates owns (or should own) a big part of the blame for Microsoft’s current woes. They said damage from his performance during the company’s antitrust defense took years to repair and that Microsoft is still dealing with the after effects of the Vista debacle which he helped cause.

Vista and the fixes Microsoft had to make to it, kept the company from attacking the huge mobile opportunity that Apple capitalized on with iPhone(s aapl), they said. And,  to be fair to Ballmer, imagine the being Microsoft CEO with Gates looming as chairman.

Microsoft had no comment on this story.

Now it looks like others with some power agree with that — although there’s nothing to guarantee that Microsoft’s board will agree to a new chairman.