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Gates to ease out of daily role

The 50-year-old Microsoft icon will remain the chairman but will give up his daily activities starting July 2008.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2006 13:27 IST

Microsoft Corp Chairman Bill Gates will give up his day-to-day role in running the software giant that he co-founded in 1975 and devote more time to his philanthropic foundation, the firm announced.

The 50-year-old executive, perhaps the most recognised and iconic figure in the technology sector, will remain as chairman of Microsoft but give up his daily activities starting July 2008. He announced the change two years in advance to allow time to make a strong transition and provide full transparency, he said on Thursday.

"I believe we can make this transition without missing a beat," Gates told reporters. "I know Microsoft is well positioned for success in the years ahead."

He said he was seeking "new challenges while keeping my connection to this great company".

Gates, whose personal fortune is estimated at $46.6 billion, has been ranked as the richest person in the world on Forbes' international rich list the last 12 years straight.

Gates amassed his personal wealth by displaying leadership and ambition at the start of the personal computer revolution. Microsoft's Windows software emerged years ago as the dominant operating system running personal computers throughout the world.

While he is widely respected for his intelligence, Gates is also widely criticised as having built Microsoft through unfair, illegal, or anti-competitive business practices. Government authorities in several countries, including the United States, have found some of Microsoft's practices illegal.

He currently works full time at Microsoft and part time at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on global health and poverty issues. Two years from now the division of his time will switch to working full time for the foundation and part time for Microsoft.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has emphasised causes such as vaccination in developing countries, AIDS research and computer access and literacy. Gates and his wife endowed the foundation with more than $26 billion.

"I am very lucky to have two passions that I feel are so important and so challenging," Gates told reporters at company headquarters. "Microsoft is well positioned for success in the years ahead. We have a clear vision of how we will meet new challenges [and] we continue to generate almost a billion dollars of profit every month."

The Redmond, Washington-based software vendor announced Gates' plans after the close of US stock exchanges. Microsoft shares fell 11 cents to 21.96 dollars in extended trading. The stock had risen to 22.07 in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading earlier Thursday.

Gates dropped out of Harvard University at age 19 to co-found Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen, who gave up an active role in the company long ago. The company went public in 1986, and Gates served as chairman and chief executive until 2000, when Steve Ballmer took over the position. Gates remained as chairman and continued to lead the firm in software design and product development.

Speaking at the press conference, Gates said he and Allen once dreamed there would be a computer in every home - something that is nearly a reality in the US and other developed countries.

"I have one of the best jobs in the world," Gates said, adding that he wants to return almost all of his wealth to society through his foundation.

The company said that two current Microsoft executives would immediately take over some of Gates' duties.

Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie, 50, will immediately assume the title of chief software architect and begin working with Gates on all technical architecture and product oversight responsibilities.

Craig Mundie, 56, the company's chief technical officer for advanced strategies and policy, will take the new title of chief research and strategy officer and will work with Gates to assume responsibility for research. Mundie also will be working with general counsel Brad Smith on Microsoft's intellectual property and technology policy efforts.

"Microsoft and Bill Gates are synonymous," Tim Boyd, an analyst at Caris and Co., told Bloomberg financial news service. "This is an indication that going forward Microsoft will be a very different company than what we're used to."