In the wake of management maneuvers at the world’s largest software company, a spokesman told eSchool News the appointment of Steve Ballmer as new CEO of Microsoft would have no adverse impact on the School Interoperability Framework and said the reorganization, in fact, would enhance the company’s ability to serve K-12 education.

Educators from coast to coast were keeping a close eye on moves at Microsoft, because an increasing percentage of school computers use Windows operating systems and because the company has played a leading role in an interoperability initiative designed to ensure the compatibility of all major categories of school management software.

On Jan. 13, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates promoted Ballmer, his longtime friend and company president, to chief executive officer of the software giant that Gates co-founded.

Gates, who stepped aside as chief executive, will remain chairman and will also take over the newly created position of “chief software architect.”

Though Gates has focused more of his efforts on his vision for Microsoft and the computer industry in recent months, the Microsoft announcement did not necessarily mean he is giving up any power in the company he co-founded in 1975 with Paul Allen.

Some observers speculated that the move was intended to position Microsoft to weather a potential breakup of the company proposed informally by the U.S. Justice Department just days before the announcement. As sketched out by Justice Department sources, the plan would break Microsoft into three separate companies.

Ballmer wasted no time in describing his position on the company’s federal antitrust woes.

“I think it would be absolutely reckless and irresponsible for anyone to try to break up this company,” Ballmer said at the news conference announcing his appointment. “I think it would be unprecedented, and I think it would be the single greatest disservice that anybody could do to consumers in this country.”

Microsoft is being sued by the Justice Department and 19 state attorneys general for alleged antitrust violations, such as squeezing Netscape Communications Corp. out of the web software market and forcing such companies as America Online Inc. and IBM to use its software instead of its competitors’.

In its defense, Microsoft has said that the industry is constantly evolving, and that its past actions did not damage its competitors. On Jan. 13, Ballmer and Gates pointed to the proposed merger of America Online and Time Warner Inc. as evidence that competitors were thriving.

With Gates remaining as chairman and taking on the role of “chief software architect,” the company hopes to create a new software platform that uses the internet to deliver personal data to any device, wherever the user happens to be.

Microsoft’s sudden emphasis on this new generation of software—which would be delivered across high-speed internet connections—gives some credence to its arguments during its government antitrust trial that it will face unprecedented competition.

Gates offered an alternative explanation for the management move. He took the action, he said, so he can return “to what I love most—focusing on technologies for the future,” he said. Over the past year and a half, Gates has turned over much of the day-to-day operations of Microsoft to Ballmer.

Microsoft has made Gates the wealthiest private individual in the world, with a fortune estimated at more than $80 billion. Meanwhile, his company has become the dominant force in the software industry, with its Windows operating systems on more than 90 percent of personal computers.

Gates said he planned to dedicate all of his time to fashioning and promoting the “next generation” of Microsoft’s flagship product operating system. At press time, the latest version, Windows 2000 for business computers, was being readied for release.

Gates said he especially wants to develop software services that will be hosted on the internet and made part of future versions of Windows.

Microsoft is working to make its popular software, especially its Office suite of business programs, available over the internet, in addition to the traditional way of loading it onto individual personal computers.

Gates described the move as “a personal decision, one I have discussed with Steve and our board of directors for some time.

“Steve’s promotion will allow me to dedicate myself full time to my passion—building great software and strategizing on the future and nurturing and collaborating with the core team helping Steve run the company.”

Ballmer will retain his title of president. He also was set to take a seat on Microsoft’s board of directors, effective Jan. 27.

“I’m certainly honored and very, very excited about the opportunity,” Ballmer said.

David Wu, a financial analyst at ABN Amro in San Francisco, said there are few differences between Ballmer and Gates.

“Other than the fact that Steve Ballmer is less rich than Bill Gates, those two are Siamese twins,” Wu said.

Ballmer, 43, was appointed president of Microsoft in July 1998, giving him direct responsibility for improving the performance of all of the company’s divisions, as well as customer satisfaction. The son of Swiss immigrants, Ballmer grew up in Detroit, where his father worked for Ford Motor Co.

He was brought into the company in 1980, by Gates, whom he met and became friends with when both attended Harvard University in the 1970s. Ballmer was Gates’ best man when he married Melinda French in 1994.

After Gates hired Ballmer, the two reportedly had some rocky times. One anecdote says that in the spring of 1985, as Microsoft’s deadline to produce Windows slipped further and further behind, Gates called Ballmer into his office and threatened to fire him if Windows wasn’t on the shelves by the end of the year (although few people believe Gates, with a notoriously bad temper, was ever serious about firing Ballmer).

Windows was ready by November.

Along with Ballmer’s promotion, Gates announced that Microsoft would develop the Next Generation Windows Services, which will power new products and services over the internet. Microsoft wants to use the internet to transmit data to any device, including computers, cell phones, handheld computers, home electronics—and gear that has not yet been invented.

The new internet-based Windows services will be developed over the next two or three years, with developers getting the first detailed view of Microsoft’s strategy this spring, Gates said.

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

U.S. Justice Department
http://www.doj.gov