Programming Windows: End Game (Premium)

On September 20, 2005, Microsoft announced a corporate reorganization that would see Windows lead Jim Allchin effectively demoted before his retirement at the end of 2006, once Windows Vista was made generally available. It was a strange end for the man who had been responsible for Microsoft’s most important platform for 10 years, and it ensured that his final year at the company would be a poignant one.

Allchin’s fate was no doubt sealed the day he had walked into Bill Gates’ office a year earlier and admitted defeat, pushing the reset button on Longhorn, which was later rebranded as Windows Vista. But the executive team at Microsoft allowed Allchin to make things right, and to go out on his own terms.

The reorg was a major one, with Microsoft restructuring the company around three businesses: the Microsoft Platform Products & Services Division, to be led temporarily by co-presidents Kevin Johnson and Jim Allchin; the Microsoft Business Division, to be led by Jeff Raikes, and the Microsoft Entertainment & Devices Division, to be led by Robbie Bach. Microsoft also revealed that Ray Ozzie, who had joined the firm six months earlier when the software giant acquired his Groove Networks for $120 million, would “expand his role as chief technical officer by assuming responsibility for helping drive its software-based services strategy and execution across all three divisions.” (Ozzie would succeed Gates as Chief Software Architect a year later.)

Kevin Johnson would succeed Allchin when the latter retired, taking control of a business that included Windows, Windows Server, developer tools, and MSN, and was then responsible for over half of Microsoft’s revenues. But they would work together in the meantime to “ensure a smooth transition.”

Microsoft announced the changes at a press event that alternated between moments of awkwardness and levity. For Allchin, however, it was mostly just awkward.

“Jim Allchin has been chatting with me last year or so about his plans and his desire to retire after we get Vista launched and out in the market,” Ballmer said at the event. “Jim has done an absolutely fantastic job over many, many years, and I don’t want to see Jim go. But I respect Jim’s personal decision. And the combination of Jim’s desires plus where we are and what we’re thinking about says, we really need to think about the leadership of the company. The most important thing we set in front of ourselves was making sure that we have great leaders in charge of the most important things we get done as a company. A lot of great things happen when you have great leaders in charge, and … the flipside is also true. Some of our biggest issues develop when we don’t have the right leaders running the right businesses.”

Given the many problems with Vista, it was hard not to view Ballmer’s words as an implicit condemnation of Jim Allchin, who was sitting near Ballmer onstage as he uttered them....

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