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At Gates of a new life
- Microsoft boss opts out of daily grind

Redmond, June 16: Fifty years old and $50 billion in pocket, Bill Gates finds philanthropy more attractive than the personal computer.

Three decades after he started Microsoft with the dream of placing a personal computer in every home and business, Gates said yesterday he would leave his day-to-day role there in two years.

He will shift his energies to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which his Microsoft fortune has made the world’s largest philanthropic organisation, dedicated to health and education issues, in India and elsewhere.

Gates said at a news conference he planned to remain chairman and maintain his large holding.

“I always see myself as being the largest shareholder in Microsoft.”

He remains the largest single shareholder in Microsoft, with 9.6 per cent of the stock, a stake currently worth $21.6 billion.

But the move, analysts said, points to the changes sweeping the software industry. Probably more than any other person, Gates has been identified with personal computer software, while the centre of gravity in computing is increasingly shifting to the Internet.

Gates’s college classmate and business partner of 26 years, Steven A. Ballmer, also 50, will remain chief executive.

He assumed that post in 2000, with Gates remaining engaged in the daily operation with the title of chief software architect.

In a coincidence difficult to miss, a week ago, N.R. Narayana Murthy, the Infosys founder, announced he would step down as chairman and chief mentor on August 20, the day he turns 60.

He said he was ready to continue as non-executive chairman.

Ballmer emphasised in an interview that Gates would give the preponderance of his time to Microsoft during the two-year transition.

But the transition will begin immediately, Gates said, with his role as chief software architect taken over by Ray Ozzie, 50, one of the company’s three chief technical officers. Ozzie has been leading Microsoft’s strategic response to the growing Internet challenge it faces from Google, Yahoo and other such.

Gates said he and Ballmer had been discussing a transition for some time, but it was wife Melinda who prodded him to tell his business partner about the decision taken in the last few weeks.

“I talked with her even before I talked to Steve about this possibility,” Gates said.

He said his primary motivation was a desire to spend more time on the issues he has decided to attack with his foundation, whose resources will continue to swell as Gates makes good on his commitment to shift most of his fortune, said to be around $50 billion.

At the news conference, Gates spoke about his emotional commitment to the company he created with Paul G. Allen in New Mexico in 1975, initially selling software stored as punched holes in paper tape to the first generation of personal computer hobbyists.

“When Paul Allen and I started this 30 years ago, we had big dreams about software,” Gates said. “I have no doubt that over the next 30 years Microsoft will play just as important a role as it has over the last 30 years.”

Even Gates’s competitors described his role as pivotal in shaping the PC era.

“Bill Gates redefined the software industry and redefined the computer industry,” said Rob Glaser, a former Microsoft executive who is now a competitor at RealNetworks, a Seattle-based Internet services company.

“His retirement from a full-time role is a huge milestone, and it marks the end of this era.”

Gates took pains to minimise his role at Microsoft, saying the company could innovate and continue to lead in the software industry despite his diminished presence.

“The world has had a tendency to focus a disproportionate amount of attention on me,” he said.

“In reality, Microsoft has had an unbelievable breadth and depth of technical talent.”

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