By Daisuke Wakabayashi
Microsoft Corp. picked two well-respected technical minds to fill the
void from founder Bill Gates' pending departure in two years, but it
also identified a next tier of leaders charged with reinventing the
software giant to compete against younger, agile rivals.
Grabbing headlines in Thursday's announcements were Ray Ozzie, 50, who
assumes the company's top technical mantle as chief software
architect, and Craig Mundie, 56, who takes over some of Gates' role as
But Microsoft also tapped a next tier of technical talent in J Allard,
Steven Sinofsky and Bob Muglia -- executives in their 30s and 40s --
to play a larger role in shaping the company's future business and
Analysts said all three have won the respect of Microsoft's
rank-and-file programmers with deep technical knowledge and an
understanding that technology improvements cannot come at the expense
of delays to new products, a problem that has plagued the company's
mainstay Windows division.
"They have really good technical minds and really good experiences
about what kind of decisions you have to make in order to ship a
product," said Rob Horwitz, an analyst at independent research firm
Directions on Microsoft.
"Those are the guys with their feet on the ground and not as much pie
in the sky."
An ability to ship new products in a timely manner seems all the more
important in light of investor perceptions that Microsoft has been
outmaneuvered by aggressive and more agile competitors like Google
Inc. and Yahoo Inc.
"Microsoft is at a crucial inflection point," said Jupiter Research
analyst Joe Wilcox. "The technologists are important for the company's
The decision by Gates to step back from Microsoft in two years follows
longtime Windows guru Jim Allchin's plan to retire after Windows Vista
ships in 2007, representing a changing of the guard at the Redmond,
"The world has had a tendency to focus a disproportionate amount of
attention on me. In reality, Microsoft has always had an unbelievable
strong depth and breadth of technical talent," Gates said at a news
conference on Thursday.
Sinofsky, 40, earned his stripes as the head of product development
for the Microsoft Office business software team, gaining a reputation
as a tough taskmaster with an ability to meet targeted release dates.
Earlier this year, he took on the role of leading the team of
developers creating the next version of Windows after
Vista. Sinofsky's responsibilities include integrating the operating
system with a set of Windows Live Web-based services.
Allard, 37, gained prominence with a note he sent to Microsoft leaders
about the looming importance of the Internet, which became the basis
for the company's change of strategy to embrace the Internet in the
An avid video game player, Allard now oversees the engineering and
design of the Xbox game console. He pushed Microsoft into online
gaming well before rivals Sony Corp. and Nintendo Co. Ltd.
Muglia, 46, has the longest track record of the three at Microsoft,
having joined the company in 1988. As the senior vice president of
Microsoft's server and tools business, Muglia needs to keep outside
developers happy with its tools and technology professionals using its
All three executives were already considered stars in the company, but
analysts said granting them more say over strategy and keeping them
happy and motivated is a smart move.
"You have to keep these people motivated with new challenges," said
Horwitz. "All three of them have been at Microsoft long enough that
they could be on a 100-foot yacht in the Mediterranean sipping down
Martinis all day."
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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