On Thursday, Microsoft chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates made the surprise announcement that he was passing on the reins to Ray Ozzie in 2008. While Gates will stay on board as chairman, his new focus would be on philanthropic work.
We have gathered below snippets of Gates' and Ballmer's missives to their employees, as well as the reactions from many of the Web's opinion makers. Some say the writing was on the wall and that a change in the company was sorely needed. What do you think?
"For these last 31 years, I've had the best job in the world. I've worked with some of the brightest and most passionate people in the world. Together, we've built a great company whose products have empowered people around the world. We're only at the beginning of what software can do, and I'm excited about the impact that Microsoft can have."
- Bill Gates, in e-mail to Microsoft employees
"This is not a decision that either Bill or I take lightly. We have a solid transition plan, and Microsoft is well-positioned to make this transition given the depth of senior leaders we have, and our strong pipeline of products over the coming year ... Bill and I are confident this plan will ensure Microsoft's future and build from the steps we have already taken."
- Steve Ballmer, in separate e-mail to employees
"It's not unusual for a company with hands-on founder -- the kind of personality that can drive a small company to successfully grow -- to later become a deterrent rather than an asset. The micromanager that once benefited a company can hurt it as operations expand. Bill apparently didn't fall in to this trap. He was able to step back as Microsoft grew, taking on ever-distant but still highly-influential roles."
- Joe Wilcox, Microsoft Monitor
"Without its competitive, hard-core leader involved in daily decisions, will Microsoft still be the bold and brash company that forced competitors out of business; incurred the wrath of government investigators worldwide; and earned the nickname "The Evil Empire"? I say it won't...And the world in which Ozzie and Mundie -- alongside CEO Steve Ballmer – will lead also is a very different one from the one in which Microsoft has been competing for the past three decades. Commanding a monopoly over desktop operating systems just won't take you as far as it used to."
- Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft Watch
"I think the real question is, was "why did he stay so long?" as opposed to "why is he leaving now"? This is a move a long time coming and there's still two years more to transition. Overall, while it's likely to have impact it's not likely to be disruptive. Mr. Ozzie was clearly brought on board to take over this role and Mr. Mundie is the logical choice to lead the research and incubation efforts. While there's no doubt, he will be missed as an icon, Vista (and whatever's beyond) will ship and life will go on."
- Michael Gartenberg, Jupiter Research
"A lot has been said about Gates' moving on, and I guess it came as a surprise to many, because everyone thought Steve Ballmer was going to get the boot. In many ways Gates leaving is a good thing for Microsoft, because the company needs to learn without the nagging question: What will Bill say? Microsoft is battling on many fronts, and it is not easy for the company to win many of these skirmishes. It needs to get some new blood and new tactics."
- Om Malik, noted technology pundit
"While this is big news, I believe the handwriting was on the wall for Ozzie to someday step into this role. Gates' trust in Ozzie came through loud and clear from our brief discussion with him at this very important industry conference and I believe that Gates felt that with Ozzie in this role, he could finally move over to manage his Foundation which has clearly become a very important part of his life.
- Tim Bajarin, Creative Strategies
"A new cycle is well under way and power is shifting from software to web services as he concept of Web 2.0 becomes reality and Google has become the heir apparent for the next big wave. Unlike IBM, which remained focused on the past, Microsoft is attempting to embrace this new future by making some critical staff changes the most visible being putting Ray Ozzie, who is considered expert on the new model, in as Chief Architect for Microsoft while Bill Gates moves on to the next phase of his life."
- Rob Enderle, Enderle Group
"Bill would definitely not be doing this if he were not leaving the company in good hands...Bill had really handed off a lot of his responsibilities at early points, and I think he will spend the the next couple of years putting on the finishing touches."
- Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder
"I think Bill Gates' transition away from Microsoft is a really good thing for him as well as the world. Microsoft will lose some celebrity power both inside and outside the company, and will need to revamp marketing campaigns around the new executives. Microsoft employees can currently author ThinkWeek papers to propose new products and initiatives for consideration by executives. Historically Bill Gates has read these papers during a week-long retreat once a quarter to plan new business strategy. I expect Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie may share this internal thought leadership duty in the future. Bill Gates is a recognized name and face throughout the world and now those recognitions may be more evenly distributed."
- Niall Kennedy, Windows Live division employee
"Like many folks, I've admired Bill Gates since I was little. I grew up dreaming about being at Microsoft some day, and "working for Bill" is still one of the coolest things about being a Microsoft employee. We love Bill and wish he never left Microsoft. But it's a selfish thought given how much good the Gates Foundation can do for the world."
- Mel Sampat, Windows Mobile Program Manager