Gates’ Next Stage


For those of you reacting with the same word to news that Bill Gates has begun transitioning his way out of his day-to-day at Microsoft in a two-year plan, there is little more to say than that: Finally.

No, Microsoft won’t fall apart, nor will its stock price bobble like Apple’s does when Steve Jobs catches a cold.

Microsoft’s management is making sure the transition plan, namely of Ray Ozzie from his role as CTO to take over Gates’ role as chief software architect, is a smooth one for the world’s largest software provider.

Nothing is more heavily scripted than that part of that story. Gates and his management team are too smart and savvy corporate managers for anything less.

Plus, it’s not like he’s ever going to be all that far from the software empire he built over 30 years as a founder of Microsoft.

But hark, do you hear that big gusting sound coming out of Redmond? Those would be the collective sighs of relief from the rank and file — especially among the code guys — that Gates is stepping onto a bigger world stage where he belongs.

Gates’ work as chief software architect, and that part of the script, is where somebody in his inner circle could have been a little bolder — beyond the sentimental comments about the positive impact that Bill Gates’ has had on personal computing and lives.

Somebody should have told the emperor he had no clothes when it came to his decision to take on the role as chief software architect in the first place.

At that stage in his life, he had no business doing that — especially with all the good works the $29 billion (and counting) Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is looking to do in the world.

C’mon Bill! The world’s your stage. Your hubris in taking on the role of chief software architect a few years back has, in my view, only stymied Microsoft’s attempt to remake itself in order to keep pace with the changes whipping the software industry — namely, software as a service.

Gates’ world is a bubble, and there is no cutting edge inside the bubble encasing the world’s richest man.

(By the way, if you’ve ever been anywhere near Gates, you know what I mean about the bubble, such as the one that expands near his exclusive digs in a major city. You’d think the President of the United States was holding court the way Gates’ bodyguards would fan out to secure the premises for the arrival of his Gatesness.

And lest you accidentally venture near one of the elevator banks he will be using, one of his goons might greet you with a look that only slightly screams: “Step any further and you will regret it. Step away from the bubble.”)

Gates’ edgy, hungry, crawling-on-your-belly-to-build-a-company days are long over. Finally, the realization is now official, starting with Gates’ own announcement.

With the transition now officially underway, maybe, just maybe, Microsoft might actually start moving away from its marketing-driven product releases and get to work on innovating for a change. Who knows, maybe the company will actually split itself up and right-size itself for just that.

The problems with Vista, the constant delays, only point out how Gates was too busy, distracted and too far gone onto the world stage to adequately fill his role as chief software architect for Microsoft. The company needs an architect who has the time and focus to get some dirt under his fingernails in the process of re-architecting Windows as a secure, stable and next-generation operating system and platform.

Rikki Kirzner, a longtime industry analyst for firms such as Gartner, Dataquest and IDC, notes that, at the end of the day, it’s the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation that really needs direction right now and that Gates is the only one for that job.

And we suspect that, deep in his heart, that’s where Gate’s interest is these days and has been for some time. He’s just been, well, adding more delays to a culture riddled with delays.

“It’s been 30 years that he’s been doing the same thing,” she says. “He needs a new set of challenges and opportunities. And his sense of personal accomplishment has to be greater from his philanthropy than from the day-to-day grind.”

Can Microsoft succeed without Bill Gates? Of course it can. Any good manager will see to it that an effective leader replaces him (or her). That’s not in doubt.

But can it innovate? Ray Ozzie’s background, especially with collaboration tools such as Groove and the Lotus Notes legacy, not to mention how approachable he is, put him in a strong position to rally the troops.

And they need to rally to be more nimble embracing a software licensing and delivery model in the midst of a gyrating transition.

Web services are developing fast, and so is the subscription and services model of software usage, Kirzner notes.

“The transition isn’t going to occur overnight, but the reality is that those that can, adapt well, and those who can’t, become philanthropists.”

Right now, the world stage is where Gates belongs, not only for Microsoft but for the good his foundation can do.

Erin Joyce is executive editor of

News Around the Web