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Microsoft Ready for 2008 Challenges

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Microsoft to 2007: Good riddance.

The new year is bringing both new leadership and new directions to the software giant. What should you look for from Redmond this year?

The past year was full of legal and regulatory messes for Microsoft. Plus, Windows Vista missed the 2006 Christmas rush, and the company was slow to roll out its online services.

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In some areas, things may be looking up for the software giant in 2008; however, the company is losing one very important asset: Bill Gates.

Enter the ‘Oz’ Era

Company co-founder Gates, who fueled the Microsoft vision for the past 32 years and was previously CEO, is retiring from active work at the company, expected by summer, 2008. He’s making the move in order to spend more time working on his family charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (What’s the fun of earning all those billions if you can’t have a little fun giving them away in ways meant to benefit the world, such as funding malaria vaccination campaigns in emerging nations?)

As Microsoft’s largest stockholder, Gates will retain his job as chairman of the board of directors. However, he already relinquished his role as chief software architect (CSA) to former competitor, Ray Ozzie, in 2006. Gates will step away from the company full-time, with the exception of “special projects,” as of July 2008.

What will remain consistent? The company’s top management. An employee since 1980 and CEO since 2000, Steve Ballmer is the firm’s second-largest stockholder. By all accounts, the company is well-managed and will continue to be for the current future.

Meanwhile, Ozzie is nearly as legendary as Gates himself, in terms of his powers as a tech visionary. After all, he fathered probably the most successful product with which Gates and company ever had to compete — Lotus Notes.

Ozzie’s biggest challenge is helping to figure out how the company can survive as a software publisher in a world where it looks increasingly that the future will be in services provided “in the cloud” rather than as big programs installed on users’ PCs.

Like Gates, Ozzie enjoys a reputation as both a brilliant engineer and a savvy businessman. He’s also known as a consummate manager. However, since he took the CSA’s reins, Ozzie has been nearly invisible outside the company. Some observers feel he should take on more of the public role that Gates has played — that of technology visionary and the public face of the company.

Since he became CEO, Ballmer has taken on much of the role as Microsoft’s business figurehead. Whether Ozzie will follow in Gates’ shoes as Microsoft’s “Mister Wizard,” however, is unknown.

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