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Microsoft's Jim Allchin takes a 'vacation'

The Windows chief is taking a two-month break. For other company execs, though, that's been a euphemism for 'he's outta here.'
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

When Microsoft rolls out its Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS) architecture next week, about the only bigwig who won't be on stage is group vice president Jim Allchin.

That's an odd coincidence, given the fact that Microsoft officials have promised that NGWS will provide a road map for Microsoft's future client and server products. As a member of President Steve Ballmer's inner circle, the so-called Business Leadership Team, Allchin is one of the key strategists for the company.

Company officials insisted Allchin won't be there live because he'll be on a well-deserved two-month vacation. But as Microsoft watchers are well aware, in recent months "sabbatical" and "vacation" have become synonymous at Microsoft with "resignation."

Allchin did not respond to a request for comment in time for this report. Microsoft representatives maintained that he's simply taking some time off after shepherding Windows 2000 through its lengthy development and arduous launch in February. One Microsoft insider noted that Allchin and his wife had a baby in recent months and that he could be taking a belated paternity leave.

Allchin will be the latest in a growing line of top Microsoft officials who recently have departed on lengthy vacations and sabbaticals. But for many of these executives, these vacations ended up as one-way tickets out of the company. The word inside is that some of these departures were the result of Ballmer cleaning house; others were not.

The most recent of these vacations-turned-retirements occurred three weeks ago, when former Microsoft chief technology officer and 14-year Microsoft veteran Nathan Myhrvold left to pursue other interests, ranging from archaeology to cooking.

In late January, former Interactive Media Group head Pete Higgins announced he would not return to Microsoft "in a different capacity" as promised. Higgins left in November 1998 after 15 years with the company where he also headed the Microsoft Office development team. Higgins is an angel investor these days.

Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer strategist Brad Silverberg never returned to the company following what was to be a brief sabbatical in 1997. Rather than returning to head Microsoft's consumer division, as was rumored, Silverberg instead opted to head Ignition, a venture company specializing in wireless technologies.

Whether or not Allchin will behave similarly is uncertain. Some company executives close to Microsoft noted that the 10-year Microsoft veteran has little financial incentive to return. On top of that, Allchin had a rough go of it during the past year, especially in the course of his testimony during the US Department of Justice's antitrust case against Microsoft.

Allchin was the official who took the heat for a botched videotape that Microsoft showed last year during the trial. Microsoft originally said the videotape was a live demonstration that showed how its Internet Explorer browser was an integral part of Windows. Later, after DoJ attorneys showed the videotape was a simulation, Microsoft had to recapitulate and retape it. Those close to Allchin said he was devastated by the incident.

With Microsoft's announcement in late March that it was merging Allchin's Windows team with group vice president Paul Maritz's developer group, Allchin took a step back from day-to-day responsibilities for managing the Windows development process.

An official with a software developer working with Microsoft noted that since the company shipped Windows 2000, Allchin's Windows platform group has kept a low profile, working behind the scenes on the myriad Windows projects on its plate, including Windows Millennium Edition; Windows 2000 Datacenter; and Whistler, the next full-fledged upgrade to Windows 2000.

"If you were Allchin, why would you come back?" the developer asked rhetorically.

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