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Microsoft loses another key executive

Paul Maritz is stepping down after 14 years with the software giant, adding to the list of high-level defections from the company over the past year.

Paul Maritz, a senior Microsoft executive, is stepping down after 14 years with the software giant, adding to the list of high-level defections from the company over the past year.

Vice president of the Platforms Strategy and Developer Group, Maritz, 45, is retiring from the company for personal reasons but will continue to serve as a consultant to Microsoft on strategic and business issues, Microsoft said.

Meta Group says the retirement of Paul Maritz from the software giant was expected, will have little impact on operations or direction, and is not viewed as a bellwether for an accelerated brain drain.

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The announcement of Maritz's departure came on the eve of today's much-anticipated Windows Me release.

Maritz's exit is not entirely unexpected. Last summer, the executive announced that he would give up day-to-day management responsibilities at Microsoft, but would remain with the company for the immediate future.

In July, Maritz told CNET that he had "no specific plans" to leave the company. He also dismissed concerns about excessive executive turnover at the software giant. "Microsoft has had a normal amount of turnover. The core of the company is still here, and we have a great group of people who have grown up through Microsoft," Maritz said at the time.

Sanjay Parthasarathy, a Microsoft vice president who formerly reported to Maritz, has been appointed to a new role in developer evangelism and business development and will report directly to Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.

Yuval Neeman will continue as vice president of the developer division, reporting to group vice president Jim Allchin.

Maritz's retirement comes at a critical time for Microsoft. Earlier this year, the company merged its Windows operating system and software developer divisions as part of a revised Web focus.

In the face of new challenges from Web-based devices, alternative operating systems such as Linux, and programming models that use the Java language, Microsoft is hoping the consolidation of the two divisions will help it maintain Windows as the world's dominant operating system.

Maritz was tapped as one of the leaders of the new unit. As vice president, Maritz was responsible for overall platform strategy, product planning and business development for the expansion of Microsoft's tools and related platform technologies.

Maritz's departure comes just three months after one of his lieutenants, Tod Nielsen, left after 12 years with the company.

Earlier this year, Allchin, who currently heads the Platform Products Group at Microsoft, announced he would take a two-month vacation. Allchin is scheduled to return to work this month.

Microsoft, which has had to devote tremendous attention to its landmark antitrust battle with the government, has seen many of its top-ranking executives walk away after years of service.

In May, Nathan Myhrvold, the company's chief technology officer, said he would not return after his yearlong sabbatical, leaving Microsoft after 14 years.

The list of departures also includes Greg Maffei, Microsoft's chief financial officer, who left in December; Internet executive Pete Higgins; and Brad Silverberg, former senior vice president for applications, who departed after an extended leave.

In addition, Peter Neupert, former vice president of news and publishing in Microsoft's Interactive Media Group, left Microsoft to take over as CEO at

These executives are among a growing crop of top Microsoft talent who, having reaped the benefits of Microsoft employee stock plans and options, have the opportunity to step back and enjoy some of their wealth. Even with the company's stock price well below its recent highs, many of these executives have been with the company for more than a dozen years and have ridden Microsoft's soaring stock market valuation to vast riches.

While some former executives have joined start-ups, many have created their own venture funds to try to continue tapping the various hot technology sectors.