In a surprise announcement, Microsoft revealed that cofounder, Chairman, and former CEO Bill Gates will be giving up his day-to-day duties at Microsoft. Gates is relinquishing his title of Chief Software Architect now, but will continue to be involved in the company’s operations on a daily basis until July 2008. He will then stay on as Chairman of the Board and an advisor on "key development projects" after the transition is complete.
Stepping into the role of CSA is current Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie, while fellow CTO Craig Mundie will take over the newly created position of Chief Research and Strategy Officer. In that role, he will assume Gates’ responsibility for oversight of the company’s research and development efforts. While Gates says it’s a difficult transition for him to make, he also believes this is a good time for it.
"Our business and technical leadership has never been stronger, and Microsoft is well-positioned for success in the years ahead. I feel very fortunate to have such great technical leaders like Ray and Craig at the company," Gates said. "I remain fully committed and full time at Microsoft through June 2008 and will be working side by side with Ray and Craig to ensure that a smooth transition occurs."
He’s not heading off to an RV park in Florida, however. Instead of overseeing things at Microsoft, he will step up his involvement in the charitable Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focusing on his nonprofit’s health and education work.
Along with longtime friend Paul Allen, Bill Gates started Microsoft in 1975. The company got its start working on BASIC and quickly moved on to other projects. In 1981, Microsoft produced PC-DOS, the forerunner to MS-DOS and moved on to bigger and better things, like Microsoft Office and what has become the world’s dominant PC operating system, Windows.
Gates remained at the helm of the company until 2000, when he stepped aside from his CEO duties, allowing Steve Ballmer to take over. He has remained highly visible in his role as Chairman, appearing at many industry events and conventions to deliver keynote speeches and spread the gospel of Windows around the world.
It’s almost impossible to understate the impact Bill Gates has had on the technology world during the last 30 years. In that time, personal computers have gone from inscrutable metal boxes with blinking lights to the complex, yet easily usable and ubiquitous devices they are today. Microsoft’s development and licensing of the Windows operating system and aggressive business practices were responsible for much of the movement, not to mention the company’s dominance today.
Gates leaves Microsoft in a good position. Despite the recent hits that the company’s stock has taken, it still has an impressive balance sheet and the kind of market share in its core businesses that is the envy of every one of its competitors. At the same time, with its first major operating system release in over five years due at the beginning of 2007 and an ever-changing technology landscape, Microsoft faces challenges today that were barely conceivable just a few years ago. As a result, the company’s growth prospects are no longer as clear cut as they once were. Still, Gates will be leaving the company he cofounded in an enviable position when he steps away in two years—that is, if Microsoft is able to successfully meet the numerous challenges it faces between now and then.