Microsoft's security strategy will outlast Gates

Industry analysts say Bill Gates' transition away from Microsoft's day-to-day business won't alter the company's security course.

Bill Gates' drawdown of daily influence at Microsoft, the company he co-founded more than 25 years ago, won't alter its course on security, analysts said Friday.

"I think that Microsoft's strategy is set and that Bill Gates' transition will not impact the company's security initiatives," Natalie Lambert, an analyst for Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., said in an email exchange. "Microsoft is adding security to its portfolio due to customer demand and that demand will not change with Gates' departure."

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Microsoft announced Thursday that its chairman will reduce his role in the company's daily operations in July 2008. Gates said he plans to focus more on the charitable work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a charitable organization that seeks to improve education and health care around the world.

Two leaders at the company, chief technical officers Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie, are taking new roles right away. Effectively immediately, Ozzie is the company's chief software architect, and Mundie is Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer.

"I've decided that two years from today I will reorder my personal priorities," Gates said in a surprise press conference Thursday. He emphasized that he "will work full time for Microsoft for another two years. This gives us time to make a strong transition," said Gates. "I believe we can make this transition without missing a beat."

Lambert, who recently authored a report outlining Microsoft's deep gains in the security market, said the company has already invested too much time, effort and money in security to turn back now.

"Microsoft is making good traction in the security market, as we are seeing customers really interested in what Microsoft will deliver," she said. "As long as Microsoft stays on course and delivers solid solutions, Microsoft will be seen as another large vendor in the security space."

Following the Code Red and Nimda attacks of 2001, Gates launched Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing initiative with a well-documented January 2002 memo urging Microsoft employees to refocus on ensuring security across the software giant's product line.

Since then, the company has rolled out a plethora of security improvements, from Windows XP SP2 to the upcoming Windows Vista. It has also overhauled its patching process with a monthly update cycle, and recently debuted Windows Live OneCare, which rolls antivirus, antispyware and firewall capabilities into one tool.

"Not only is Microsoft's current strategy well set and mortared in, its principles and philosophy of operation are, too," Jonathan Eunice, founder and principal IT advisor at Nashua, N.H.-based consultancy Illuminata Inc., said in an email exchange. With or without Bill Gates, he said, "Microsoft's other 60,000-plus employees are well-schooled and expert at running the company's security strategy."

And, he added, "It isn't like Gates got hit by a bus. He's still very much there for the next several years; he's just signaling that the day will come when he won't be, and planning an orderly succession," Eunice added.

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