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Microsoft's Allchin goes on extended vacation

The software giant says executive Jim Allchin's absence will not follow the former pattern of employees who have taken leave and then quit.

Microsoft executive Jim Allchin is about to begin an extended vacation, although Microsoft said that his absence will be temporary.

Allchin, who currently heads the Platform Products Group at Microsoft, is set to take a two-month vacation, returning in September, the software giant confirmed today. Such extended breaks are typical at Microsoft, which is known for its intense but flexible work environment.

But the steady pace of exits from Microsoft's executive suite, including several high-profile names who extended initially temporary sabbaticals, leaves the matter of Allchin's eventual return less than certain. In recent months, many Microsoft executives have gone on sabbatical but not returned.

Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft's chief technology officer for the past 14 years, said earlier this year that he would not return full time to the company after his leave of absence. Internet executive Pete Higgins and former senior vice president for applications Brad Silverberg also departed after an extended leave.

In addition, Peter Neupert, former vice president of news and publishing in Microsoft's Interactive Media Group, and former CFO Greg Maffei left Microsoft to take over as CEOs at and 360networks, respectively.

Microsoft has been tinkering with its structure for some time. In January, Bill Gates handed over the CEO title to Steve Ballmer. Gates now serves as chairman and chief software architect.

Allchin, who took a public beating for his role in the Microsoft antitrust trial last year, will come back to Microsoft in September, according to a spokesman. Allchin oversaw the launch of Windows 2000 in February, described by the company as the biggest software development project to date.

But Allchin's timing, vacationing in the midst of the launch of Microsoft's Next Generation of Windows Service (NGWS), is somewhat surprising.

He oversees the presumed company-wide initiative, which encompasses Microsoft's Windows 2000 and MSN online divisions and is seen as Microsoft's defense against a series of attacks from Web-based rivals, applications and upcoming operating systems such as Linux and the Palm operating systems.

NGWS is set to be unveiled June 10. However, it won't come out as a product until later in the fall, when Allchin is expected to return.