Microsoft's Chief Technical Officer Rudder is back in the limelight

Microsoft's Chief Technical Officer Rudder is back in the limelight

Summary: Eric Rudder, one time considered a possible CEO successor to Bill Gates, is back in the public spotlight, as of this week's Consumer Electronics Show.


Just before Christmas, Microsoft announced internally the pending retirement of Research and Strategy Chief Craig Mundie. His replacement is familiar to some of us veteran Microsoft watchers: Eric Rudder.


Rudder, for those who may not know of him, given his not-so-public profile for the past few years, is Microsoft's Chief Technical Officer. Rudder has been managing some of Mundie's groups for the past year.

But effective immediately as of December 2012, he took over completely the management of Microsoft Research, Trustworthy Computing, and the Technology Policy Group. His direct reports include the head of the Startup Business Group inside the company (Amit Mital) and the head of the Strategic Software/Silicon Architectures group (KD Hallman), among others.

Rudder had almost completely disappeared from the public-speaking circuit after he moved out of his role as Senior Vice President of Server and Tools around 2006.

This past week, Rudder was making the rounds at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). He was pitchman for Microsoft Research's Illumiroom proof-of-concept that extends Kinect for Windows so as to project images on walls around the TV. (Here's more on Illumiroom.) He also was part of Samsung's keynote and showed off a prototype of a Windows Phone with the flexible Youm display.

Back in the early 2000s, Rudder was often mentioned as one of the likely possible CEO successors to Bill Gates. But then he went underground to work mysterious projects, like Microsoft's Midori operating system, surfacing rarely to show off emerging technologies at a handful of events around the world.

One of my contacts recently quipped that he considered Rudder to be more Gates-like than anyone still at Microsoft -- which shouldn't be too surprising given Rudder worked as Gates' Technical Assistant for years (as did the former head of Windows, Steven Sinofsky).

Might Rudder be back on the short list of possible Microsoft CEO candidates again? What's your take?

Topics: Emerging Tech, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I'm no fan of MS, but...

    ...all in all, I think the Gates approach worked better than the Ballmer approach does; but why are we talking about successors to Steve Ballmer when there's been no indication that he's even close to stepping down?
    John L. Ries
    • You're right: No one is talking about Ballmer stepping down any time soon

      But things seem to be changing faster at Microsoft these days. One day you can go from golden to gone. And once Sinofsky was out, a lot of folks started thinking again about who might be on the CEO short list... MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • If Eric Rudder did become CEO of MS

        I'm sure all the "steering the ship" puns would dominate the headlines.
        William Farrel
  • Give me his email!

    My life has been turned upside down by refusing to sync or connect with Outlook 2010 or 2013. The EAS will result in an error message "too many devices are syncing to this account", except only one is too many. Unless you catch the mods on a good day in the chaotic help forums, get them to make "back end adjustments" to your account. Then it will work for 20 min, if you're lucky, before the program locks down again with the same error message. Microsoft is dishonestly continuing to urge innocent users to download the trial version of Office 2013 with instructions to sync Outlook 2013 using EAS to your "fully featured" account. Then you're screwed. You will only be able to get your email if you go to the website directly. Since WiFi isn't available when you're on the go, forget checking your messages. If GMail had something similar, I'd switch in heartbeat. Maybe this what I should be doing since Microsoft could give damn about me or the other poor saps that trusted this corporation to provide what it advertises. But it might as well be malware since it renders your email account inaccessible from all your devices. Not just your Outlook desktop.
    I would love to bring this to the attention to someone who'd give a damn!
  • I don't see Rudder as a possible CEO ...

    ... but I can imagine him has CTO/Chief Architect, leading the cross-company technical direction, vision and execution. Ballmer is a great businessman, but is not a technical leader - he needs someone who REALLY gets technology and the future of technology as his CTO - that, for me, is Rudder.
    • I'd rather have...

      ...a techie who understands business as CEO than a businessman with some acquaintance with tech. The captain of the ship needs to understand the ship he's sailing to a far greater degree than the typical driver needs to understand his car; and I think tech firms are much more like the former than the latter. In my humble opinion, this is a major reason why Gates was a more effective CEO than Ballmer has ever been.

      And I'll admit to preferring competent villains to incompetent ones (Darth Vader vs Dark Helmet).
      John L. Ries
      • Wasn't Jobs a Salesman with some acquaintance with tech?

        He had Woz do the tech work, Jobs just "sold" the product.

        That's basically a businessman with some acquaintance with tech.

        Worked out well for Apple, wouldn't you say?
        William Farrel
        • That's a good point

          But I don't think Jobs stayed that way and even at the beginning, I think Jobs envisioned what he wanted (with feedback from Woz) and Woz implemented it. In any case, Jobs went on to become a first class designer; which is very different and much more relevant to running a tech firm than being a generic salesman or MBA.
          John L. Ries
          • In short...

            ...Jobs was a businessman who cared enough to become a techie, which can work very well.
            John L. Ries
        • Jobs may not have been a developer "techie'

          but he an understanding of the world he worked in. Spotting what could work and how to follow through on that vision is critical.

          Tablets for example were around for a long time that were created by techies, but the execution wasn't right.
      • Many mistake the role of the CEO

        Because of unique individuals like Gates and Jobs, many expect all CEO's to bi similarly unique.

        But the fact is that the role of the CEO is all about building the structure of the company, looking after the money, dealing with legal, shareholders, etc., defining the vision and direction and making sure the company's goals are met.

        I believe that is a role typically better served by one well versed in business, legal and finance as opposed to technology.

        That said, a wise CEO leans heavily on his staff to help define the company's direction, strategy and goals.
        • I respectfully disagree

          A CEO *must* understand what his firm his selling if he's to be successful. Appointing a tech CEO who doesn't understand tech is a lot like appointing an auto company CEO who doesn't understand cars or a general with no military experience.
          John L. Ries
    • Ballmer has been CEO since the start of 2000

      Gates was Chief Software Architect from that time until he retired. I think that was part of the "replace Bill Gates" discussions.
  • Rudder is a very good choice

    I worked with Eric many years ago and he is a good candidate for many positions at Microsoft. He is intelligent, listens to others and makes good decisions. So as CEO or some other high profile post he should be able to do a great job.
  • Obviously....

    ...statements I've read that Microsoft is Rudder-less are inaccurate.
    • Drum roll please!

      I vote yours as pun of the day :)
  • Change as what has happened, is taking place, will happen

    Technological advance in hardware and software is happening so fast that when people talk about change what their concepts are may differ drastically. When I visualize the Illumiroom and think of motion, voice, eye and thought control, which are all in the developmental stage; how do I fit a PC, tablet, hand held mobile device into the mix. What would Gates and co be doing at MSF to stay competitive and ahead of the wave? Would a Surface Pro with a 4th gen processing chip be able to stay relevant or would I have to change hardware every year to keep up.