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As the sun sets on Jim Allchin's Microsoft career, the dawn ahead holds uncertainty about the company's direction under its predominately sales and marketing leadership.

Allchin and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who retires on June 30, 2008, are among the last of a generation of Microsoft executives. They represent an era and a software developer culture that is in transition--or is going to have to be, because of changes at the top.

Microsoft's evolving management structure puts sales and marketing people at the top of the Microsoft organizational pyramid. Several reorganizations pushed aside or put to pasture many high-level, hard-core technology managers and replaced them with sales and marketing folks. Before September 2005, product people had more direct contact with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer than they do today.

Microsoft is organized into three broad divisions that are subdivided into five P/L groups: Business, Client, Entertainment & Devices, Online Services and Server & Tools. The three larger groups and their presidents are Platform Products & Services, Kevin Johnson; Business, Jeff Raikes; and Entertainment & Devices, Robbie Bach. These three leaders, along with Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner, are better known for business development and marketing than for technology.

I don't suggest that there are no technologists at Microsoft. There are plenty. Although many of the best ones work out of Microsoft Research, many very talented geeks work elsewhere. The notable high-level executive exception would be incoming software architect Ray Ozzie. What's changing--and has been for about 18 months--is the influence of technical leaders and their access to Ballmer.

"Ray Ozzie isn't Bill Gates, either in vision or influence, so there's a technical vacuum at the top," said Paul DeGroot, lead analyst with market researcher Directions on Microsoft. "By default, the power has shifted to Ballmer and Turner, both of whom are on the marketing side."



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