One of the richest men in the world is getting a new job.
Bill Gates today ends his tenure as a top leader at Microsoft, the software giant he co-founded, to devote himself full-time to his huge charitable foundation.
Instead of working to solve problems in the information technology business, he’ll now be working to solve the world’s health problems and other major challenges.
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Gates is officially leaving Microsoft as of Friday, although he will remain the company’s non- executive chairman.
Since Microsoft’s start in 1975, Gates has piled nearly all its hats on his head: genius programmer, technology guru, primary decision maker and ruthless leader. He served as chief executive and later chief software architect, and is credited with being a key decision-maker on both business strategy and technical issues.
Analysts and scholars also credit him with changing software into a money-making enterprise, rather than a pastime for hobbyists.
For Microsoft, the challenge on Monday morning will be how to deal with problems even Gates couldn’t solve, including competition with Google.
Recent remarks indicate the company won’t even try to find a replacement for Gates but will divide his functions among whole groups of employees.
In an interview with NBC’s Tom Brokaw on the eve of his departure, Gates spoke about his new role and the outlook for Microsoft, and said he does not think a deal with Yahoo Inc is likely.
The software giant had hoped a Yahoo deal would accelerate its ability to capitalize on Web advertising growth and compete with Google, which is increasingly fighting for the same Internet audience.
Microsoft had sought a tie-up with Yahoo for more than a year and by early May had offered up to $47.5 billion, or $33 per share, to buy the Internet company.
The deal would have given Microsoft a potentially potent tool in its fight to diversify Microsoft, which still relies heavily on the Windows operating system and Office software suite. The Internet has left some questioning whether those systems will be as relevant in the future.
Microsoft’s troubles are exacerbated by the fact that the most recent Windows Vista operating system landed with a thud.
The company also is struggling to find its footing in other areas. In addition to investing heavily in Internet technologies, Microsoft has scrambled to catch up with rival Apple, maker of the popular iPod music player, although it remains an also-ran with its Zune.
Asked by Brokaw whether Gates has an iPod, he responded that he uses a Zune to listen to music.
“It’s an even better way of carrying your music around,” he said.
Gates also told Brokaw that his kids use Microsoft’s Xbox videogame system, and argued that the Internet is a “very positive thing” for curious young people.
While Gates’ replacements will have a tough road ahead, some think it’s a good idea to give more power to a new generation of thinkers.
“Some of the technical folks may even be better suited than Gates to lead the company into the next generation of computing,” said Michael Silver, an analyst for Gartner who has covered Microsoft for a decade.
“Some would say that maybe he had too much power ... Some would say Microsoft hasn’t failed enough, hasn’t gone out on enough limbs and been as innovative as they could have been,” he said.