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Bill Gates' unfinished business

In July 2008, Bill Gates officially hands off the sceptre of Microsoft church of software to Ray Ozzie (chief software architect) and Craig Mundie (chief research and strategy officer).The transition has been underway for 18 months, and I wouldn't expect any bumps in the road other than those that already exist for Microsoft.
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Written by Dan Farber, Inactive on

In July 2008, Bill Gates officially hands off the sceptre of Microsoft church of software to Ray Ozzie (chief software architect) and Craig Mundie (chief research and strategy officer).

The transition has been underway for 18 months, and I wouldn't expect any bumps in the road other than those that already exist for Microsoft. Ozzie, Mundie and CEO Steve Ballmer can carry on without Gates' deep involvement in key products under development. In an interview with news.com this week, summing up what is Microsoft, Gates said:

I think the core of who we are and what we do (is) believing in a platform. We're better positioned than anyone. Do we have to continue to work on our advertising scale and our search and some usability things in our music products? You bet. But that all comes off the core of being a company with the best research group, by far, of any software company, and a breadth of talent that everyone is envious of.

He was talking about Google and Apple as competitors, and the areas where Microsoft isn't the clear leader. Over the last 30 years, Gates has shown that winning and dominating a category is at the core of the Microsoft culture.

Overtaking Google and Apple in their respective businesses is unfinished business for Gates.

In the 20th century software was all about operating systems and business applications, and Microsoft dominated. In the 21st century its about Web-based services, search and advertising, and Microsoft is lagging, even with all of its prodigious research group and talent.

It's not common for a company to dominate is multiple businesses, even if it is mostly software. Microsoft has money and the persistence of a pit bull going for it, but so far that hasn't led to slowing down Google or Apple. But, many people didn't think Microsoft could make a go of it in the gaming console space or in big enterprises. And, Microsoft will be doing more investing ($240 million into Facebook) and acquiring to bolster its positions, such as aQuantive (adverstising), Tellme Networks (voice services), Medstory (healthcare) and the recent S1.2 billion cash offer for enterprise search company Fast Search and Transfer (FAST).

As Microsoft's Chairman, Gates will still feel the pull of the company even as he further detaches from the day-to-day action. The board meetings should be very interesting. I can imagine if things aren't going particularly well, the founder will take a break from philanthropy, lobbying and other activities to get back in the game and help his team win.

Of course, taking his compulsion to win and tackling problems such as global disease and hunger will bring a far more important and lasting legacy.

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