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Sunday, 22 June 2008 17:24

Goodbye to Bill Gates on June 27... but it's not goodbye forever!

Bill Gates stops his “day to day” work at Microsoft on Friday June 27, to focus on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its work in health, vaccines, education and more. But he remains Microsoft’s Chairman – and its largest single shareholder – so he won’t be too far away if Steve Ballmer wants to have a chat!

Although Bill Gates leaving his day job at Microsoft signals the end of an era, the rise and rise of the world’s most well known, and richest geek, won’t be stopping its skyward pointing trajectory any time soon.

Bill Gates plans for his foundation to continue “Bringing innovations in health and learning to the global community”, and through a combination of the generosity of Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffet, the “Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation” certainly has the resources, brainpower and financial muscle to ensure Gates’ star shines for some time to come.

Founding “Micro-Soft” with his friend and fellow billionaire Paul Allen in 1975, the story of Microsoft’s success is legendary.

The short version starts with Gates snapping up the QDOS operating system for a song, renaming it MS-DOS, selling it to IBM and securing the rights to sell it to others, along with writing his own version of the “BASIC” programming language.

These actions set Gates, Allen, Microsoft and a host of others on a path of success that still sees Microsoft as maker of the world’s most popular operating system, with a vision to put a computer on every desktop and bring computing to the masses.

Yes, Microsoft has had many stumbles over the years, from the original MSN Network that was meant to compete with AOL and the Internet itself, software “misfires” such as DOS 4.0, Windows ME and Windows Vista.

The purchase of the “WebTV” platform never took off as intended, with Microsoft spending years in developing interactive TV solutions that only seem to be now bearing fruit with the Xbox Live video download service and the ability to turn the Xbox 360 into an IPTV box.

Microsoft’s mismanagement of Vista, an operating system that is still shunned by some who prefer Windows XP, the Mac or various Linux operating systems, has somewhat matured with the introduction of Service Pack 1 (SP1).

A lot of the work for SP1 was done side by side with turning the Vista code into the much more appreciated Windows Server 2008, which has itself become the foundation of “Windows 7”, Vista’s successor, due in late 2009.

Another big Microsoft move of the past few months has also been the attempted and aborted purchase of Yahoo!, although Gates is said to not have had much to do with it.

Next on page 2: what happens to Microsoft now that Bill is going?

But in between MS-DOS and Vista have been many other developments, from the original version of Windows, the successes of Windows 3.0, 3.1 and 95, 98, 2000 and XP, the move into Office software, the expansion of Microsoft’s software into education, games, the server space, hardware, .Net, ActiveX, Internet Explorer, Windows Media, DRM, Pocket PCs and Windows Mobile Smartphones, the Tablet PC and much more.

The original Microsoft Mouse is over 25 years old, Microsoft’s Flight Simulator is still loved by desktop pilots, the Xbox and Xbox 360 have proved successful, if not exactly profitable, and Microsoft’s Zune mp3 and video player still exists although no-one is quite sure why.

Of course this is all highly abridged, I’m sure you can think of plenty more Microsoft moments, from the famous “Microsoft minutes” when copying files through to Bill Gates getting a few cream pies to the face a decade ago.

But what will happen to Microsoft without Bill Gates running the show? Well, in some ways, he’s long ago prepared for that. To start with, Steve Ballmer has been CEO for years now, with his retirement date not mooted to happen until about 2017.

Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie have both taken over elements of Bill Gates’ previous roles, with Ozzie being Microsoft’s “Chief Software Architect” and Mundie dubbed the “Chief Research and Strategy Officer”.

Beneath this triumvirate are a host of characters in charge of different Microsoft divisions, spanning Windows, Office, Xbox, hardware and more.

Planning for Gates’ departure has been in effect for years, and Microsoft is being left in a strong position, both in terms of people, and finances.

Sure, it has plenty of challenges and challengers, from legal to Google, from Sony to open source software, from Macs to web apps.

We'll miss ya, Bill... Continued on page 3.

But Microsoft has always planned ahead, even if it has had to change it plans several times, and the huge organisation that is Microsoft will hardly be falling to pieces just because Bill Gates won’t be coming into the office any more.

As noted in the introduction, Gates will remain the Chairman of the Board, and remains Microsoft’s largest shareholder.

Steve Ballmer will always have the ear of Bill Gates if needed, and Gates has plenty of years left in him yet.

Being born in 1974, a year before the birth of Microsoft, I’ve grown up with Microsoft, played with almost all of its creations, and have lived through the impact Microsoft has had, and continues having, as I write this article in Vista SP1 and Office 2007.

Gates’ presentations at CES will be missed too, even if they were never as dynamic as those from Steve Jobs with the iPhone or anything Mac, but I’m sure he’ll be back from time to time to talk technology and "the magic of software" anyway.

Bill Gates may be officially leaving his day-to-day work at Microsoft on Friday June 27. But he definitely won’t be leaving the stage any time soon!


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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