Gates Downplays His Role, Plays Up Microsoft's Future

Despite the competitive challenges that Microsoft faces, Bill Gates said last week that the company "is well positioned for success in the years ahead" -- even without him in a full-time job after July 2008.

During a teleconference last Thursday, Gates downplayed his involvement in product development during his time as the vendor's chief software architect. "Any view that the innovation [at Microsoft] comes primarily from me reflects the notion that there has been an overfocus on my contribution," Gates said. "From Office to Windows, SQL Server, Exchange and Xbox -- I am not the primary person on any of those things."

Gates said he decided that Microsoft should announce the transition plan to send a clear message that it "is a very serious thing, [and] it is starting now." He added that he and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer have gone "carefully through the things I actually do -- not what is written -- and [decided] how those will be taken on" by other executives.

Ballmer said Microsoft "is capable of making a smooth and orderly transition to a new set of technical leaders without missing a beat." But the software vendor needs "to be relentless in improving our agility as a company," Ballmer noted. "That means ensuring that our products come to market on a timely basis ... and that our time and energy are focused on customers."

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Research in Hayward, Calif., said Gates is starting to step aside at the same time that Microsoft is preparing to release two "classic old-style" products: its Windows Vista client operating system and a new version of Office, both due for initial shipments later this year.

"In my mind, the market seems to be stepping away from that kind of computing," King said. In addition, King said he questioned whether Gates would be "the guy who is able to lead Microsoft into the new mobile and more virtual kind of world."

Gates plans to relinquish his day-to-day involvement at Microsoft in order to devote more time to his charitable health and education work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. However, Microsoft said that he will remain as its chairman after the transition period and serve as an adviser on major development projects.

"I don't see a time in the future where I won't be the chairman of the company," Gates said. "I want to have that association my entire life."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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