Chase, 40 years old, is giving up the job of senior vice president in charge of Microsoft's MSN Internet businesses, a change disclosed inside Microsoft last week in an internal e-mail from Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer.
In the e-mail sent to company employees Thursday, Ballmer said Chase now "wants to pursue some new challenges." He added: "Brad and I will be working together to define a transition."
The e-mail detailed other organizational changes at the company, including the relocation of some of Microsoft's MSN Internet businesses -- such as its Web-searching and browsing functions -- to other development groups. And Microsoft didn't mention Chase's move in a separate official announcement of the restructuring, released last Thursday.
It isn't clear whether Chase will leave Microsoft altogether in light of the changes at MSN. Microsoft's new president and chief operating officer, Rick Belluzzo, said Chase could remain at the company in another role. "We're in discussions about what the right opportunities are," Belluzzo said in an interview. Chase, who returned to Microsoft after a brief sabbatical in November, was said to be out of town and couldn't be reached for comment.
People close to Microsoft say Chase may have left his latest post partly because he was disappointed that Microsoft is moving some MSN businesses to other development groups, including a Windows team and a group focusing on "user interface" issues, such as speech recognition. Belluzzo acknowledged that after officials decided to restructure MSN, partly to integrate its services with some other Microsoft offerings, "the job that Brad had was significantly changed. You have to surmise that Brad stepped back and thought about what role [he] wanted to play in all that." But Belluzzo and Yusuf Mehdi, the Microsoft vice president who will step up and oversee the remaining MSN businesses, said Chase also likely felt he had done his job with MSN and was ready to move on.
"You could effectively say we've done a turnaround," said Mehdi, who helped Chase increase MSN subscribers and turn it into the most-visited network of Web sites in the world. Mehdi added that it made sense to move some of the MSN businesses. All browser work at the company, for instance, now will be done by a single team, instead of having separate groups work on Internet Explorer and parts of the new MSN Explorer software launched last year.
The AOL challengeThe business Chase headed, though, continues to be one that is crucial to Microsoft's future. In his note, Ballmer wrote that "perhaps our greatest competitive challenge is America Online," a company he said wants "to provide so much content and services that consumers never want to leave AOL's 'walled garden.'" AOL is owned by AOL Time Warner Inc.
In his 13 years at Microsoft, Chase oversaw the launch of the company's critical Windows 95 product and Microsoft's first Web browser, Internet Explorer. That product was Microsoft's answer to Netscape Communication Corp.'s breakthrough browser, the once-dominant product that Microsoft eventually overtook.
Whether Microsoft won that battle unfairly by tying its browser to its ubiquitous Windows operating system is the subject of the government's landmark antitrust case against Microsoft, which is winding its way through a federal appeals court. Chase testified at the trial for Microsoft in Washington, D.C., in early 1999.
In his memo, Ballmer also said that Senior Vice President David Cole will expand his work building back-office technology mostly for consumer services, such as MSN, to "have responsibility for building and operating all of our .NET services." Microsoft.NET is the umbrella name for the company's broad new Internet initiative, which seeks to deliver more software products as Internet-based services.
Cole will continue to report to Group Vice President Bob Muglia. But Muglia will now report to Ballmer, instead of to Belluzzo. Belluzzo was promoted to his post in February.
In the past two years, Microsoft has watched several top executives leave the company's ranks, including some who migrated to start-ups and others who retired early to enjoy their stock-option wealth and pursue other interests. Former Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold retired in February, and Group Vice President Paul Maritz, one of Microsoft's sharpest minds, left in September.