Microsoft has made official the expected departure of the company's Chief Technology Officer, Nathan Myhrvold, for a one-year leave of absence.
A written statement from Microsoft, stressing the 39-year-old Myhrvold's history and importance to the company, had the tone of a farewell.
Rick Raschid will be charge of basic research activities in Myhrvold's absence.
"I would not be surprised at all if Myhrvold chooses not to return but instead prefers doing something else," said Dwight Davis, a Seattle-based Microsoft analyst at market research Summit Strategies, headquartered in Boston. Myhrvold is rich enough to do whatever he desires, Davis added.
Myhrvold will use the year for to pursue scientific interests, according to the Microsoft statement. This summer he will join an expedition hunting for dinosaur remains in eastern Montana. On the agenda are also other dinosaur projects, as well as physics and mathematical biology pursuits. Myhrvold also wants to have more time for his family.
The news of his leave of absence follows months of rumors, surfacing again now due to a report in Time magazine. According to some published news accounts, Microsoft President Steve Ballmer allegedly forced Myhrvold out because of his heavy engagement in other activities, such as the research in dinosaurs. However, Microsoft officials and Myhrvold have been quoted in various reports as denying the rumor.
Myhrvold, who joined Microsoft in 1986, is known as the person who spearheaded Microsoft's efforts to build a serious research lab. He founded Microsoft Research in 1991. Today the lab has nearly 400 researchers from computer science and several other disciplines on the payroll.
Microsoft does have Myhrvold to thank for being able to attract some of the best brains from universities, according to Davis. Microsoft has not had a good image in academic circles, partly because academics consider Microsoft to have "fairly mundane software products, not exactly cutting-edge," according to Davis. Also, academics have a hard time adjusting to working for a company known for its "aggressive business tactics," he said.
"But Myhrvold, who is a renaissance man with many interests, was able to persuade them to join, and he created an insulated environment for them, so they weren't under pressure from the day-to-day business," Davis said.
Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-800-425-8080 or http://www.microsoft.com.
(Jeanette Borzo contributed to this report.)