Gates stepping down from full-time Microsoft role

Sets 2008 date for transition out of day-to-day role as chief software architect at the software giant.

REDMOND, Wash.--Bill Gates, the man who started Microsoft and has been its public face throughout its three decades of existence, plans to step away from daily work at the company.

Gates announced on Thursday that he will gradually relinquish his current role, ceding the title of chief software architect immediately, while remaining a full-time employee for the next two years. In July 2008, he will become a part-time employee and chairman.

The announcement comes as his company battles pressures on all fronts: a sagging stock price, competition from Google and nagging delays in the Vista operating system.

In a press conference held Thursday after the stock markets had closed for regular trading, Gates announced that over the next two years he will gradually step away from his daily responsibilities at the company he co-founded some 30 years ago.

Microsoft's Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie will immediately assume the title of chief software architect, Gates said. In addition, Craig Mundie, CTO for advanced strategies and policy, will immediately take the new title of chief research and strategy officer and will assume Gates' responsibilities for the company's research and incubation efforts.

Gates will work side-by-side with Ozzie throughout the transition period, but a year from now, Ozzie and Mundie will begin reporting directly to CEO Steve Ballmer.

Gates explained that he has been working part-time for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and full-time for a company that has made him the richest man in the world, and he wished to reverse those priorities.

"The road ahead for Microsoft is as bright as ever," Gates said in a press conference here, noting that he plans to work full time through June 2007 and plans to remain as chairman for the foreseeable future. "So many seeds we have planted have just started to grow."

Gates said that his role has already changed significantly from the company's early days, when he liked to review each line of code and interview each job applicant. Although he said he likes to think he still has a significant impact on the broad range of company activities, he said that the products are already in others' hands.

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"The world has had a tendency to focus a disproportionate amount of attention on me," Gates said.

Although Gates will lower his profile at Microsoft, he will likely still have a huge effect on the company, predicted Nathan Myhrvold, CEO of Intellectual Ventures and former chief scientist at Microsoft.

"Part-time for Bill Gates is full-time for anyone else in this industry," he said. "I remember when he got married. People said, 'Oh, this will slow him down.' But it didn't."

Ballmer took the opportunity to characterize Gates' move as a broader shift for Microsoft, which has come under fire by some analysts, investors and employees for moving too slowly. "We're really also announcing the transition we are making as a company," he said.

He pointed specifically to work the company is doing, led by Ozzie, to add services to everything it does, as well as a move beyond the PC into other devices such as mobile phones and televisions.

In the audience for Gates' press conference were many of the company's business and technical leaders, including Ozzie, Mundie, retiring Windows chief Jim Allchin, incoming Windows chief Steven Sinofsky, as well as the three divisional presidents: Jeff Raikes, Kevin Johnson and Robbie Bach.

As for the company's stagnant stock price in recent years, he said, "Stock markets do what they do. That's their job."

Ballmer acknowledged that the company has "an opportunity to do better in some of the areas" in which it has products, but defended the company's overall record. "I think our company has performed very well," he said.

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