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Partners: It Was Time For Gates To Step Down

Bill Gates was already distracted from Microsoft by his work with his charitable foundation, says one partner.

Bill Gates' decision to step down from full-time responsibilities at Microsoft stunned the world at large but came as little surprise to industry insiders and the software giant's channel partners.

Industry observers said they expect no major impact on the channel and business fronts from the move, since channel-friendly Steve Ballmer remains Microsoft's CEO and Gates will continue as the Redmond, Wash., company's chairman and strategic adviser.

Taking over Gates' chief software architect title is tech guru Ray Ozzie, who was serving as a Microsoft CTO. Craig Mundie, also a Microsoft CTO, was named chief research and strategy officer. Gates said he plans to spend more time on his charity work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Bill [Gates] has been chief architect, but in reality I don't think you can do that part-time. He has continually been pulled by his foundation interests," said 10-year Microsoft veteran Bob Tedesco, CTO of Resolute, a Bellevue, Wash.-based solution provider. "Everyone is driven by product penetration and the size of the customer base and not by the fact Bill is involved or not involved. Besides, he will still remain chairman."

Observers have been waiting for the day when Gates' succession would begin since he handed off the CEO reigns to his Harvard buddy and designated heir Steve Ballmer in 2000 and began serving as self-appointed chief software architect.

Gates' much-celebrated acquisition of Groove Networks last year spurred industrywide speculation that Groove CEO Ozzie--the creator of Lotus Notes--was Gates' heir apparent on the technology side of the business.

"I was wondering why Microsoft has been piling so much praise in the press about Ray Ozzie over the past several months. They were prepping the world for this announcement," said Todd Swank, director of marketing at Nor-tech, a Burnsville, Minn.-based system builder. "They wanted to make sure everyone knew what capable hands the company was going to be turned over to, along with Steve Ballmer and Craig Mundie."

The Ballmer-Ozzie team will drive Microsoft and its channel partners forward, said Ted Dinsmore, president of Conchango, a New York-based Microsoft solution provider and author of Partnering With Microsoft, CMP Books.

"From a day-to-day perspective, Ballmer leaving [Microsoft] would have a more significant impact on the business, since he has been a centerpiece of Microsoft's business strategy over the past number of years," Dinsmore said. "From a new product perspective, this gives Ozzie great leverage to make his mark and clears the way for innovative technologies. Let's see how Ozzie does now."

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