Summary: With the departure of Microsoft’s CEO, what does the future hold? Irrelevance, unless a visionary comes to change course.

Microsoft’s original vision — a PC on every desk and in every home — was a grand, future-looking vision. And Microsoft succeeded, that old vision is today’s reality; everyone has a computer and Microsoft is largely to thank for that.

But today? Microsoft’s Ballmer-guided mantra, "We are a devices and services company", is not a grand vision. From the outside, Microsoft appears to be directionless, reactionary, playing catch-up.

Directionless: What’s the grand Microsoft goal, what are they trying to achieve? The answers seems to be the mundane business goal of selling more copies of Windows. OK, that makes business sense in the short term. What about the future?

Reactionary: Microsoft got a PC on every desk. But instead of pushing computing forward via the web & mobile devices, they’ve been reactionary: letting these revolutions happen outside the company, then retrofitting their old stuff to the new paradigm.

Catch-up: Microsoft had a PDA, but never advanced it; it couldn’t make phone calls. Microsoft won the browser war, then did nothing; it couldn’t open multiple tabs. Microsoft had a tablet, but never pushed it to its potential; it never optimized for touch.

Instead, Microsoft stagnates while a competitor steps in and blows us away with PDAs that make phone calls, tablets that boot instantly, app stores that reward developers for developing on your platform, and browsers that innovate in speed and security and features. Microsoft continues to play catch-up, when they should be leading technology forward.

Microsoft needs a grand vision and someone to drive it. They need a forward-looking leader to drive this vision. If they want to be a devices company, innovate with hardware – maybe flexible, haptic displays for Windows Phone, for example. The huge R&D budget — $9.4 billion in 2012, outspending even Google, Apple, Intel and Oracle — could play into this.

Will the next Microsoft CEO be a forward-looking tech visionary? Microsoft is headed towards consumer irrelevance and business stagnation. I’m convinced it will arrive at that destination unless a future-minded visionary reroutes the mothership.