Is Microsoft Ready for Gates’ Transition?

Will the way Microsoft does business, externally and internally, change significantly as founder Bill Gates transitions to spending most of his time at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a lot less at the Redmond software maker?

That’s the question on everyone’s lips, but there is no consensus among Microsoft executives, financial analysts, researchers and industry watchers on this, with diverse views ranging from those who believe there will be almost no changes to those who say they will be both huge and significant.

Gates, Microsoft’s chairman and chief software architect, is planning to leave in 2008 the company he founded 31 years ago, to focus on his philanthropy work. Gates said June 15 he will remain as chairman and does not “see a time when I’m not chairman of the company.”

Click here to read more about Bill Gates’ decision to spend more time at his foundation.

But, with Gates out of the day-to-day role, Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie, formerly chief technology officers at the company, will step up. Ozzie takes on the title of chief software architect and Mundie becomes chief research and strategy officer.

In an interview with eWEEK June 15, Mundie said he does not expect any significant changes, particularly not on the product development front.

“I think that the culture of the company is rich and established. After 31 years, Bill has put a fairly indelible imprint on the company,” he said. “A lot of people have ‘grown up’ inside this company and, to some extent, we do what we do the way we have grown up doing it. I don’t expect there to be any abrupt change as a function of this transition.”

While noting that he and Ozzie are different personalities than Gates, all of them were involved in the executive discussions as the company grew and matured over the past five to six years, Mundie said.

“So, I’m not expecting it to be very disruptive relative to certainly how the product groups develop their products,” he said.

Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer issued memos to try to calm the Microsoft troops. Click here to read them.

For his part, Ozzie joined Microsoft in April 2005 when it acquired Groove Networks. Prior to founding Groove, Ozzie was the founder and president of Iris Associates, where he created and led the initial development of Lotus Notes.

In terms of divvying up responsibilities between the Ozzie-Mundie brain trust, Ozzie will handle more of the tasks around product development and commoditization, he said in a phone interview shortly after the transition announcement was made June 15.

“Incubations and advanced development is where my responsibilities start,” Ozzie said. “The products we ship and what we take to market will be more in my domain.”

Windows Live will be at top of mind for Ozzie, in terms of his foremost priorities in his new role (which began June 15), Ozzie said. “The reason I picked up our services strategy six months ago was that I believed it to be the biggest change catalyst” for Microsoft, he said. “[Services] will touch every single product Microsoft has.”

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