Barney's Rubble

Say It Ain't So, Bill

After three decades as the heart and soul of Microsoft, Bill Gates calls it quits.

In case you haven't heard, Bill Gates has given up his job as Chief Software Architect. (Even if Saddam was still hiding in his spider hole, he would have heard this news.) In two years, Gates will give up his day-to-day role at Microsoft. Ray Ozzie will take over as Redmond's new CSA. Ozzie is already driving what is perhaps the most exciting era in Microsoft's history. Exciting technology (like Live) doesn't always make for an exciting company, though. People make companies exciting. And Gates is a man who made the whole world talk.

For the past two decades, the world has gabbed about Bill, his wealth, his software, his highly competitive and sometimes combative nature, and, most recently, his giving. Let's face it--it's a lot more fun to talk about Gates than DLLs, patches and licensing.

Microsoft will be just fine without Bill sticking his nose into every line of code. Its product line is a huge quilt. At its core are XP, IE and Office. Trying to build one monopoly on top of another is Windows Server. Then you add the e-mail, database, collaboration tools, and now the Dynamics' ERP, CRM and supply chain, and you're really cooking.

Douglas Gates

Once you've adopted the core stack, it's easy to add new pieces as they come out of Microsoft. Gates could fall asleep like Rip Van Winkle and the company would continue to build new squares for its quilt that customers will gladly buy.

This is nowhere near as fun as Bill Gates the public figure, though. Gates crisscrossed the country in the early of days of MS-DOS, Windows and Word. He visited every user group that invited him (he may have even crashed a few meetings). He personally showed off new features, often to rock star-like applause. At one meeting, I expected to see lighters and calls for an encore.

He visited customer after customer. Each one told Bill what they loved, hated and needed in software. Microsoft might not have always done what its customers asked, but Gates always knew exactly what they wanted. No competitor could match his tireless customer bonding.

That approach paid off. Whenever Redmond's salespeople would pitch a new enterprise product, the IT guy who once shook Bill's hand (but never met another top software exec) would always sign right up.

The software industry has lost many colorful characters -- brash folk like Borland's Philippe Kahn and Lotus' Jim Manzi. Now the most influential of them all is stepping back from the spotlight.

Gates won't be fading away, though. We can all watch the magic he'll do to fight disease, hunger, illiteracy and population growth. This man is a hero to many, especially the young. Now he'll teach his admirers to care less about material wealth and more about using it to do great things.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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