Gates steps down as Microsoft CEO

Steve Ballmer has been named CEO of Microsoft Corp., leaving Bill Gates as chairman and taking on the additional role of chief software architect.

"I'm certainly honored and very, very excited about the opportunity," Ballmer said. "It's a challenging time. But the times Microsoft is faced with challenges is the time we do our best work and do the most to revolutionize the industry."

Gates said he wants to spend 100% of his time on developing new technologies, including software to interface with handwriting and speech recognition products.

Microsoft plans to put out a roadmap in April for its software strategy over the next three years, the company's top executives said. The focus will be infusing every piece of Microsoft software with Internet capabilities.

Consumers can expect an update to Windows this year and another next year, Gates said.

Addressing reports that government attorneys might seek to break up Microsoft over antitrust allegations, Ballmer said, "It would be absolutely reckless and irresponsible for anyone to try to break up this company. It would be unprecedented and [the] single greatest disservice that anybody could do to consumers in this country."

During a teleconference with reporters, Ballmer accused the U.S. Department of Justice of leaking its ideas about breaking Microsoft into three companies. "I believe the leaks are deliberate," he charged. "I don't think there's any doubt about that. The entire line of conjecture is ... reckless and irresponsible."

One antitrust expert doesn't think the company and the government will be able to come to terms in the case. "They will go back to court," predicted Mark Schechter, a lawyer at Howrey and Simon in Washington.

At today's press conference, Ballmer sniped at rival America Online Inc. and its merger with Time Warner Inc., implying that the merged company won't have the right technology smarts to compete with Microsoft. "AOL didn't acquire a lot of software designers this week," he said.

Microsoft has posted a statement about Gates stepping down from his CEO post on its corporate Web site.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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