Gates Climbs Out of Windows

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America's most famous CEO is no longer a CEO. With an antitrust case and a major shift in the market of his firm's core area of business looming, Bill Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft Thursday, handing the reins to long-time protégé and college buddy Steve Ballmer. Gates for his part will ratchet back to the role of chairman and "chief software architect." The move ends a 25-year stretch as Redmond's top dog, during which Microsoft became the world's most valuable firm and Gates its wealthiest individual. In that time, Gates also embodied the resurgence of American entrepreneurship and inspired a generation of the brazen, young and techno-savvy to take chances. Some have argued that no single person has ever created more global capital. Yet the uncertainty brought on by the lessened role of the tech revolution's leader comes just as huge questions are emerging about the future of the software industry.

So why'd he leave? Theories range from its being a ploy to improve the company's chances in antitrust court — maybe the feds will go easier if they see their nemesis fading into the background — to that he just wants to spend more time with the wife and kids. Gates says he simply wants to focus on developing software, because that's where he thinks the big bucks will be as the Internet moves beyond our PCs into everyday gadgets, from pens to coffee makers to car stereos. "At the end of the day you're thinking, thinking, thinking about how the different pieces of the company come together," Gates said, reasoning that the day-to-day operations have hindered his ability to oversee the change in emphasis from operating systems to Internet software. But then again, how much reason does a 44-year-old worth $85 billion need to not want to work as much?