* This article appeared in the Citizen newspaper on 24 June 2006 [Link].

BillYou might have heard of Bill Gates. If you’ve kept up with breaking news you’ll know that Bill announced that he would be “gradually” stepping down from his full time role as chief software architect at his monolithic brainchild, Microsoft. By July 2008, he will be a part time employee and occupy the board as chairman.

You probably haven’t heard of Robert Scoble. Robert is also a Microsoft employee, or at least was – having announced his resignation from his role as a developer at Microsoft in the same week as his $50 billion boss.

Scoble has built a name for himself online as the man who shattered public perceptions of Microsoft’s cold, hard exterior by bravely blogging his experiences at the corporation in the public domain. He recently authored the successful business blogging guide Naked Conversations, which enjoyed rave reviews.

ScobleRobert shot from zero to hero, geek to web celeb, as his popularity grew among the online blogging fraternity. So popular is he, in fact, that his resignation from the company trumped web buzz around the FIFA World Cup which kicked off at the same time.

These two announcements on their own are worth taking note of. They can’t but have a massive impact on public perceptions of Microsoft. Gates, love him or hate him, is Microsoft. He has left big shoes for Ozzie, Balmer and company to fill. Robert Scoble, although not as recognisable as Gates (that is, if you don’t spend all day on the Net), also leaves a gap. Many angry, sceptical, anti-monopoly web surfers found consolation in Scoble’s normal, approachable manner.

These issues emerge as Microsoft faces pressure from all sides – a sagging share price, the Google giant and excessive delays in the release of its successor to Windows XP – the Vista operating system.

Many believe Microsoft has had its day. Others are less concerned believing Microsoft has proven time and time again that they are competitive, even if coming from behind (Netscape vs. Internet Explorer).

Either way, this confluence of changes and evolutions will demand a creative commitment on the part of Microsoft to re-inventing itself. Gates will continue to be a compelling influence but, nonetheless, these are interesting times.