Did Microsoft employees really walk out on Ballmer at Microsoft's annual meeting?

The blogosphere has gone into overdrive about reports that employees walked out of Ballmer's talk at the company's recent annual employee meeting. But are those reports believable --- and if they are, does it even matter?

The to-do was set off by comments posted on the Mini-Microsoft blog. The blog is written anonymously by a Microsoft employee, and the comments are also posted anonymously.

Many commenters savaged Ballmer and the current atmosphere at Microsoft, such as this one: "It is the most depressing time per my 10 years at MS, actually. Everyone is either leaving or planing to leave. Everyone is selling stocks." Some commenters said that people walked out on Ballmer's talk.

News reports and bloggers picked up on the comments. Fortune's Apple editor, Philip Elmer-DeWitt, for example, wrote that, "the tone and volume of the remarks made after this year's gathering suggest that morale in Redmond has hit a new low...the comments speak for themselves."

BusinessInsider took it further, headlining its blog about the matter, UPRISING! Microsofties Trash Ballmer After Disastrous All-Hands Meeting. It was also picked up at many other places as well, including the Inquirer, winrumors, and gizmodo, among others.

There's one problem with all this coverage though: There's no way to know whether a word of what the commenters said on the Mini-Microsoft blog is true. Because the comments are anonymous, their claims can't be checked, and there's no way to know whether they were at the meeting or are even employees. Paul Thurrot says he's talked to a number of Microsoft employees, and reports on his blog that "In fact, the meeting ran as did previous ones, and employees who left early did so simply to beat traffic. As they always do at these meetings."

There's no way to know what actually happened at the meeting, and in a way it's almost irrelevent. Because it appears that Ballmer lost the trust of many Microsoft employees some time ago. GeekWire notes that Ballmer's approval rating among Microsoft employees back in May was a dismal 29% as calculated by the site glassdoor.com. Even before then, his ratings were poor; in early April he was rated at 40%, the lowest for the CEO of any major tech company.

It doesn't appear that Ballmer is going anywhere, though. Even though the Microsoft board gave him only half his potential bonus last September, and despite influential hedge fund manager David Einhorn saying it's time for him to go, Ballmer has said he has no plans to retire soon.

Ballmer still has the support of the board, and so he'll be at Microsoft a while. He has a lot riding on Windows 8 and on Windows Phone 7. Windows Phone 7 stands a chance of being resuscitated, if the Nokia deal pans out, and if the release of Windows 8 helps juice demand for Windows Phone 7 because of their common interface. But if Windows Phone 7 continues to flounder, and if Windows 8 tablets don't catch fire, he could be in for trouble, whether or not employees walk out on his talks.

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