COMPUTING'S most famous man has a new job. Microsoft said last week that co-founder Bill Gates is now its chairman and chief software architect, and President Steve Ballmer will add CEO to his title.
The two also unveiled Microsoft's next technology direction: Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS). Microsoft will flesh out this initiative at a "Forum 2000" strategy day in April, Gates and Ballmer said.
The reshuffle continues a process of moving Gates into the role of a full-time strategic technology visionary, rather than a more operational role. Gates will spend most of his time focusing on technology architecture and direction.
In the coming years, Microsoft will focus on assembling an "Internet-based platform" set of applications, tools, and services that leverage and maximize Web use, the duo said. The initiative will revolve around sharing every possible data type on the Internet, Ballmer said.
The first NGWS products will be rolled out at a Professional Developers Day this summer, and there is an overall NGWS delivery schedule of two to three years, Gates said.
Without giving specifics, Ballmer said the products will incorporate a new user interface and will use emerging speech technologies. The company is also working on a fresh approach toward developing software applications, together with a new file system, Gates said.
"We need ... a breakthrough version of Windows that allows PCs and servers to support next-generation services and host them ... on the Internet," Ballmer said.
Rob Enderle of the Giga Information Group in Santa Clara, Calif., predicted that once Windows 2000 launches next month there will be "another wave of departures" from the company of high-level executives who feel their jobs are done.
"Microsoft will completely rearchitect its products and the way it sells them," moving away from its shrink-wrapped focus, Enderle said. "If it's possible, then Microsoft will do it. The question is whether it is possible."
Tim Bajarin, president of market researchers Creative Strategies, in Campbell, Calif., said the announcement's timing had nothing do with the U.S. Department of Justice trial against Microsoft or the $350 billion America Online-Time Warner merger.
Gates said the management change is the result of several years of conversations between himself, Ballmer, and Microsoft's directors.
"I certainly enjoyed being the CEO," Gates said. "However, what I really enjoy the most is working with the product groups."
Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Wash., is at www.microsoft.com.
Additional reporting by James Niccolai, Marc Ferranti, and Clare Haney at the IDG News Service, an InfoWorld affiliate.