The truth is out there, but Bill won't let us in on it

You are old father William, the young man said, and the Department of Justice will fall on your head. Is this an epitaph for...

You are old father William, the young man said, and the Department of Justice will fall on your head. Is this an epitaph for William Gates III or just another example of my twisting English literature to suit my own sinister purpose

Seriously though, Bill Gates' announcement that he was giving up the day job shouldn't really have come as a surprise. After all, the ground had been prepared back in July last year, when Big Steve Ballmer, the affable, energetic and noisy face of Microsoft, stepped into the presidential slippers, just in time to catch the fall-out from Bill's rather unique approach to giving evidence at the DoJ hearing. If this deposition had taken place at the Old Bailey, there's little doubt in my own mind that the Home Secretary would have immediately halted the trial and sent him home to Seattle in a wheelchair.

So why did Gates shuffle sideways? I find it hard to believe the story that as "chief software architect", he longs to return to programming and pizza. After all, if I had $20bn in loose change, I'd probably buy a new sweater, Linus Torvalds and a small South American country! But please, design yet another version of Windows? It has to be a cruel joke!

Perhaps the truth is a little more obvious. Given the company's present series of challenges, Gates represents an albatross hanging around Microsoft's corporate neck. He's smart and full of new ideas but has never been diplomatic in his dealings with government, partners and competitors.

That's not a sin unless you happen to lose and, from the evidence, Microsoft needs to find a compromise deal with the DoJ or face a visit from the Bishop of Bath & Wells, complete with hot poker, an analogy that won't be lost on millions of Black Adder fans.

In reality, I think Gates' move is both considered and part of a greater strategy. The AOL-Time Warner merger revealed a hint of what the future holds for the IT industry and I, for one, can imagine a Microsoft in two or more parts or perhaps even a Microsoft, or part of Microsoft, merging with a company like Disney. A wild guess? Not entirely. Let's just say that intuitively I'm sensing a pattern of behaviour which has attracted my interest.

Simon Moores is chairman of the Windows NT Forum and the Java Forum

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