Gates to scale back Microsoft role in 2008

World's richest man to focus more on his charitable foundation

Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates says he will step out of his daily role at Microsoft in July 2008 so he can take on a full-time role at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the charity organisation he runs with his wife.

To prepare for this move, Microsoft is enacting a plan that includes executive changes in order to make the transition as smooth as possible, Gates says.

"Obviously, this decision was a hard one for me to make," he says. "I feel lucky to have two passions that are so important to me. Even as I prepare to shift my focus ... I know Microsoft is well-positioned [for the future]."

Gates said he will remain as chairman "indefinitely," but Ray Ozzie, now chief technology officer, assumed the chief software architect title immediately.

Another executive assuming a new role effective immediately is Craig Mundie, who is now chief research and strategy officer and also will partner with Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, to lead the company's intellectual property and technology policy efforts.

Gates downplayed his role as the great innovator at the company, and says Microsoft will continue to show leadership in providing software that changes people's lives.

"The world has had a tendency to focus a disproportionate amount of attention on me," he says. "In reality, Microsoft has had an unbelievably strong breadth and depth of talent."

Gates founded Microsoft, then Micro-Soft, in 1975 with Paul Allen, and dropped out of Harvard University in his junior year. Five years later Gates persuaded his Harvard buddy Steve Ballmer to join. Ballmer, the first non-engineer at Microsoft, became the company's chief executive in 2000 after having long been regarded as Gates' co-pilot.

Allen left Microsoft in 1983 after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

Ballmer says Thursday, the day of the announcement, was an emotional one for him, having worked "shoulder to shoulder" with Gates for 26 years. He said even when Gates' role at the company diminishes, his impact will be felt for years to come.

"Bill may reduce his time here, but his imprint on the company will never diminish," he says. "It will continue to be reflected in everything we do."

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