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Commentary: Good riddance to Microsoft's problem child

Unlike previous executive defections by the likes of Brad Silverberg and Pete Higgins, Joachim Kempin's departure is unlikely to be lamented by many inside or outside Microsoft.

The Microsoft careening into 2001 isn't the Microsoft customers and competitors have come to know over the past 25 years.

In fact, almost none of the names on Microsoft's executive roster are the folks who helped build Microsoft into the empire it is today. And on Monday, Microsoft acknowledged it is crossing off yet another familiar name, Joachim Kempin, from its alumni list.

Unlike previous executive defections by the likes of Brad Silverberg and Pete Higgins, Kempin's departure is unlikely to be lamented by many inside or outside Microsoft. Indeed, some may welcome Kempin's long-rumored exit as a chance for Microsoft to turn over a new leaf in its dealings with its PC partners.

Kempin, a 17-year Microsoft veteran and one of the more controversial figures who helped build the company's coffers, is leaving his senior VP post this summer. Like Microsoft's other golden boys, Kempin is neither officially resigning nor being let go. Instead, he will be put out to pasture and oversee as-yet-undetermined "special projects" for CEO Steve Ballmer.

Kempin has been a problem child for Microsoft for years. This is a guy who lost his hunting license earlier this year for allegedly using his SUV as a weapon (as in ramming antelopes with his car instead of shooting them).

Kempin once told me he had written into his contract a stipulation that he didn't have to talk to the press. And no wonder: Kempin, more than just about anyone else at Microsoft, knew where the manufacturer bodies were buried.

But Kempin's main claim to fame is that he did more than just about any Microsoft executive (with the possible exception of Bill Gates) to get Microsoft hauled into federal court on antitrust charges.

Kempin was charged with managing relations--as well as operating system and application licensing contracts--with Microsoft's largest PC maker partners. PC maker representatives who were forced to negotiate with Kempin mano-a-mano over the years said he was one of the toughest of the no-nonsense Microsoft crew that made Windows licenses a cash cow for the company.

PC makers credited Kempin with introducing the Microsoft Market Development Agreement (MDA) licensing agreement, which came up time and time again during the Microsoft antitrust trial. MDAs specified how much each PC maker would pay Microsoft for each copy of Windows they preloaded on PCs. Those who did Microsoft's bidding and quietly bundled Internet Explorer got the best Windows rates. Those who dared cross Kempin and his team--as IBM did by failing to drop Lotus Notes, which competed head-to-head with Microsoft Exchange--got the shaft.

Now that PC sales are slowing and Microsoft is attempting to squeeze revenue from sources other than its traditional Windows and Office base, maybe it's high time for Microsoft's old guard to move on. Perhaps the departure of Kempin and appointment of his replacement, Richard Roy, who is general manager of Microsoft's German subsidiary, could mark a new chapter in Microsoft's history.