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Microsoft’s co-founder, chairman, and chief software architect, Bill Gates, is to gradually step down from day to day duties. He will focus instead on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which works on health and education in developing countries.

Dubbed a “transition plan” by the company, Gates will effectively step back from running the company, handing over his chief software architect role immediately and gradually winding back his chairman role over the next two years.

Also attracting attention was a Business 2.0 story calling for Steve Ballmer to follow Gates in winding down his role, citing the three likely successor’s to Microsoft’s energetic chief executive.

Either way, Gates’ departure is the biggest milestone in a year of change at Microsoft as it has felt increasingly under pressure from competitors such as Google and a period of intense self-scrutiny after numerous delays to the upcoming Vista operating system. A wide-ranging restructure announced in September saw the company divided into three, more autonomous, divisions.

Gates role as chief software architect will be immediately taken up by Ray Ozzie, the author of the “internet services disruption” memo that was leaked just about everywhere in late October.

Ozzie only joined Microsoft in March 2005, when his start-up, Groove Networks, was acquired by Microsoft. Prior to setting up Groove he had worked at IBM and was best known for his role in creating Lotus Notes.

Craig Mundie, another of the three chief technology officers named in last year’s restructure, will also be elevated. Mundie takes the new title of “chief research and strategy officer”. He will work closely with the company’s legal counsel on intellectual property and policy matters, Microsoft said.

An anonymous blogging Microsoft employee who has gained attention for criticising aspects of the company’s structure thought the move was a good one.

“Mini-Microsoft”, the blog of an anonymous Microsoft employee, has gained growing attention during the past year as cracks in the company’s previously unassailable success have appeared. The blog’s author is often critical of the

“(B)oy, when Gates got choked up on stage today thinking about not seeing Steve everyday my lip starting quivering, too, and my eyes got a bit misty,” wrote Mini-Microsof of the the ‘Town Hall meeting’ for Microsoft staff about Gates’ decision.

“I think the world will be a better place for Mr. Gates - er, Bill - focusing on his foundation. And Microsoft is ready to re-invent itself. Hopefully with less people,” wrote the blogger, who believes the company has become bloated.

Someone called Scoble also leaves Microsoft

Amidst the noise surrounding Bill Gates’ announcement it was easy to forget a lesser, but still significant, departure from Microsoft this week: Robert Scoble, chief evangelist and lead blogger.

Scobleizer’ made him one of the superstars of the blogosphere, and his willingness to criticise Microsoft and stand up for the likes of rebel employee blogger Mini-Microsoft is also thought to helped the image of the company, often viewed in the tech community as adopting an aggressive stance.

Apple’s European regulatory woes

Apple meanwhile had its own, Microsoft-style drama looming in Europe as several countries there crack down on its iTunes software, particularly the music store which accounts for about 80 per cent of online song sales, failing to work with devices other than the iPod.

First three Norwegians with some legal and technical expertise and a bit of time on their hands decided to tackle the iTunes compatibility issue. As they happened to be members of the country’s Consumer Council, the authorities took notice and Norway, along with Sweden and Denmark, have demanded Apple take action to support non-iPod players. Finland is also considering joining in.

Meanwhile in France, legislation to ensure interoperability amongst all electronic devices is in its final stages.

Ironically, its old rival Microsoft probably feels Apple’s pain, after its own lengthy battles with the European Competition Commission.


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