Continued from page 2

But none of that has yet restored the luster Microsoft had on Wall Street when Gates was in charge.

Ballmer’s initially dismissed emerging threats from Google and Apple. He consistently pooh-poohed Google as a one-trick company during its early years and in 2007 declared: “No chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.”

Those were some of his biggest mistakes, detractors say. Google quickly made important inroads in Internet video, online maps, email and mobile computing and contributed to the damage that the iPhone and iPad have done to Microsoft and its partners in the PC market.

Apple’s meteoric rise has been especially painful for Microsoft. When Steve Jobs returned to run Apple in 1997, the company was so bad off that it needed a $150 million infusion from Microsoft to stay afloat. Now Apple has a market value of $570 billion _ more than double Microsoft’s $250 billion.

On Tuesday, Apple got a chance to upstage Microsoft when CEO Tim Cook showed off the iPad Mini, a smaller and less expensive version of its top-selling tablet.

On Thursday in New York, Ballmer will herald the arrival of the most important product of his reign. The market’s response to Windows 8 may determine whether it turns out to be the opening act in his vindication or one of his final moments in the spotlight.