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Burnout – occupational hazard for MS execs?

The way things are going, maybe 'cash and run' looks tempting

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Does Microsoft win in every market it enters? Not in online. Pete Higgins, group VP of the interactive media group for three years, resigned last month. Whether he was pushed out or just burnt out -- or both -- is not known publicly, but the press release said he would return "in an equally challenging role" next year. Clearly the circumstances resulting in Higgins' departure arose suddenly, because Microsoft was wrong-footed by not having an instant replacement available. Microsoft has not stated a policy on the AOL acquisition, and a spokeswoman said last week that Microsoft would not comment until a successor to Higgins had been appointed. At present, president Ballmer is covering the job, and policy formulation is beyond the capability of the cheerleader. Higgins predecessor, Patty Stonesifer, resigned in 1996, citing family reasons and becoming president of the Gates Library Foundation. Brad Silverberg has been on leave of absence since 1997, and looks unlikely to return, although he was pulled in to give a deposition in April. Microsoft's major failures in the consumer sector have included games, where it did not dominate because Windows was so slow; its 1992 effort, then dubbed Cablesoft, to involve the cable industry in making the PC the focus of on-demand programming or interactive television in the home; and WebTV has not achieved the success that Microsoft expected, and looks unlikely to take off in a big way. Meanwhile, MSN jogs along in its third version, but not as a serious challenger. Considering the heat generated by the Microsoft trial, and the fact that opinion is moving against Microsoft (except for balanced reports in The Register, of course), it is likely that an increasing number of Microsoft executives whose shares have vested will consider whether they wish to put up with the aggro, or jump ship. Bill Gates himself is certainly playing a less active role since Ballmer's appointment as president. Gates has been ambiguous about when he might retire, but the possibility increases day-by-day, as the trial continues. Could it be a sign that yesterday he announced his biggest gift so far -- $100 million to aid children in developing countries? Originally the amount was going to be $55 million, but at the urging of his father, who runs the Gates Foundation, the amount was increased. Stonesifer denied that the timing of the announcement was to help with some local difficulties. ® Complete Register trial coverage

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