After Bill Gates said last week that he will step away from a day-to-day role at the company over the next two years, users lauded his contributions to Microsoft and the IT industry. But many said they think the change could be positive for Microsoft as it manoeuvres to fend off competition from Google, Linux vendors and other emerging rivals.
For example, Christopher Wanko, a lead systems analyst at Schering-Plough Corporation described the transition plan as "absolutely good news" for Microsoft. It comes "at a time when the old school needs to become a hallowed memory, and new ideas and perspectives should come to the fore", Wanko said.
While some users were sentimental about the announcement everyone agreed change will definitely be in the air.
Canal Insurance CIO Adrian Brown said an era is ending. "I am grateful that Gates stayed as long as he did. He could have cashed out years ago. What an impact one man has made," he said.
For so long Gates played such a standout role at the company he founded in 1975 that any transformation in his role is bound to have an effect, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group.
"Microsoft is so much Bill Gates in terms of corporate personality," Enderle said. "You will see that starting to change [because] he represented such a big footprint. You can't help but see some level of change. I don't think there is anyone who can replace Gates. He is larger than life."
Gates is "a brilliant strategic thinker [who] revolutionized the industry", according to John Halamka, CIO at CareGroup Healthcare System and Harvard Medical School in Boston. "However, it's clear that Microsoft has not competed well with market innovations from Google, Linux and the next generation of thin, Web-based applications."
The software vendor "needs to transform itself, and new leaders in day-to-day operations may create opportunities for radical change", he added.
Not everyone contacted by Computerworld last week was so upbeat about Gates' plan to relinquish his role as Microsoft's chief software architect. The duties Gates now performs will be split between Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie, who both previously held chief technical officer jobs at the company.
Dan Agronow, chief technology officer at The Weather Channel Interactive, lamented the announcement as "the end of an era".
Gates is "the individual that's the embodiment of Microsoft," Agronow said. "When you think of Microsoft, you think of Bill. I think now Microsoft will be viewed more as a corporate, faceless entity, similar to IBM. I don't see that as good or bad; it's more sad."
However, Agronow predicted that the changes will likely make Microsoft even slower to respond to competitive threats. "I don't see it having the single strong personality that could turn the ship when needed, like when it finally recognized the threat of Netscape," he said.
Gates "is the heart and soul of that company, so I have to believe that his departure would make it something less than it was before", said Chris Hubbell, a software systems engineer at Westar Energy. The planned transition "makes Microsoft a little less imposing" and potentially more vulnerable to competition, Hubbell said.
David Smith, an analyst at Gartner, said Microsoft faces a changing technology landscape and needs to reinvent itself to accommodate IT trends such as the delivery of software as a service and the development of so-called Web 2.0 applications.
Gates has led Microsoft's responses to major market challenges in the past. In particular, he wrote a legendary 1995 memorandum titled "Internet Tidal Wave", in which he expounded on how critical e-commerce would become to business survival.