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Gates bolts

The big news of this week was the departure of Bill Gates from Microsoft.

Like all the best news stories, you might have heard this one before. Gates stepped down from day-to-day management of Microsoft in 2000 when Steve Ballmer took over as chief executive. But now he wants to work full-time on his foundation and part-time for Microsoft.

He gives up the title of chief software architect immediately to Ray Ozzie. Over the next year, Gates will reduce his role at Microsoft - becoming part-time by 2008. He will remain chairman and a major shareholder. Gates insisted that Ballmer remains the best man for the CEO role. He described their partnership as "the greatest business partnership ever".

But have the last six years really been so good? Certainly, the last six years have seen a big drop in Microsoft's share price. They have also been marked by fairly regular anti-trust court cases - Europe and South Korea are still marching towards a conclusion. And they've been marked by what some observers see as a lack of the spark and innovation that once made Microsoft shine.

But this is not entirely true. Microsoft has never really been an innovator, it rarely arrives first in any market - look at browsers. But when it does enter a new market that market is quickly turned on its head. Microsoft today looks more vulnerable, not less. And continuing set backs and problems with Vista, its oft-delayed operating system, are making things worse.

Ballmer joined Microsoft in 1980, so to credit Gates with full responsibility for its corporate culture is a little unfair. In his press conference, Gates complained that the world pays him too much attention. Who'd have guessed being the world's richest man would attract such attention?

Microsoft is just a great big layer cake

We got an interesting glimpse into the world of Microsoft this week from a blogger who posted a lengthy and thoughtful piece on why Vista is delayed. And he should know - Philip Su spent five years running development teams at Microsoft. The piece was removed shortly after it went up prompting an orgy of speculation from the usual conspiracy theorists. The fact that it went back up, in order to lessen attention paid to it, also tells us something about the company.

Su says: "Deep in the bowels of Windows, there remains the whiff of a bygone culture of belittlement and aggression. Windows can be a scary place to tell the truth." He describes VPs unwilling to hear bad news and unwilling to pass it on. Fear of getting a face full of chair means teams are hiding problems from their managers.

Su also complained about the layers of management: "There are too many cooks in the kitchen. Too many vice presidents in reporting structures too narrow. When I was in Windows, I reported to Alec, who reported to Peter, to Bill, Rick, Will, Jim, Steve, and Bill. Remember that there were two layers of people under me as well, making a total path depth of 11 people from Bill Gates down to any developer on my team." Su also says micromanagement is still a feature of some managers - not good when you're trying to get 50m lines of code out the door.

Read Ashlee Vance's view of the Gates announcement here.

And the musings of Mr Su are here. Apologies for the random bold sections of text.

Beeb broadcasts a cup full of trouble...

Apart from Bill, the week was filled with beer and football. Which was nice.

The BBC took the unusual step of advising companies how to block access to large sections of the BBC website. The Beeb wasn't doing a Yahoo! and removing anything the Chinese government didn't like. It was offering to help companies stop staff accessing the streamed coverage of World Cup matches. Aunty Beeb was reacting to the flurry of fears of global network meltdown as people tune in for England matches. Given the time of most games, and the crowds down at Register Towers' nearest hostelry, most people are choosing to watch games in traditional discomfort rather than peering at a wobbly square online. More on blocking the Beeb here.

And to find out how Yahoo! is the best Chinese censor click here.

...and the cup that cheers your liver

From football to beer - or rather what you consume when you're not watching football - coffee. It emerged this week that the two are more closely connected than you may have imagined. Research from the US reveals that coffee can dramatically reduce cirrhosis of the liver. A survey of 125,000 people between 1978 and 1985 showed a daily cup of coffee can reduce your chances of getting the disease by 22 per cent. Tea does not have the same effect.

More from our coffee correspondent here.

Powergen goes cold on outsourcing

Last week, we looked at the difficulties of dealing with offshored business processes, and how board members argue over responsibility and how to manage projects based in different time zones. This week, Powergen decided the game wasn't worth the candle and closed its Indian call centres. The utility is bringing all its phone farms back to the UK. With spooky timing, or not, we also heard this week that one of the leading Indian outsourcing providers, ICICI OneSource, is opening a 1,000 seat call centre in Northern Ireland. Let's hope ICICI's board of directors can agree who will be looking after this offshored project.

And the Windows Genuine Advantage is?

The row over Windows Genuine Advantage continued this week with readers complaining that the nastyware was unfairly labelling them pirates. Or worse, it was telling their customers they'd bought hooky software - not a good thing, especially when you've gone to the trouble and expense of sending Microsoft a reasonable pile of cash for a genuine license.

WGA checks your software is legit and then reports back to Microsoft. Fine, but it was making the call every day. It's now been tweaked, and only phones home every two weeks. However, readers point out that it is still assuming guilt rather than innocence, and it is slowing start-up times on some machines. Simple changes, like a new video card, can send WGA into a bit of tizzy. Which would be irritating enough on your own machine - you need to get in touch with Redmond and get "reactivated" - but doing the same thing for a corporate network is really no fun at all. More here.

Roam all you want, but pay up

The European Commission has had a bee in its bonnet about international roaming charges for ages. But this week it backed away from forcing mobile providers to cut the cost of roaming across the continent. Originally, the commission was proposing price caps on consumer prices and tying them more closely to domestic charges, but it has decided to go after wholesale prices instead. This should be easier to do - some analysts were suggesting the EC proposals would be all but impossible to implement. And most observers reckon we'll still see consumer prices falling. The mobile companies wanted action taken on wholesale prices too, so for once regulator and industry are in warm accord. More on this here.

Very quickly...

A couple of shorties: Oracle results are in and the firm beat expectations by a comfortable margin - more here. And finally, CA made another move into storage this week with the purchase of records management company MDY Group - have a look here for more details.

How to cure over-spending - NHS style

Earlier in the week we reported on the problems already besetting the NpfIT and in response we got a "newspeak" missive questioning our use of "fines" to describe money the NHS must pay to suppliers.

An NHS spin king, appropriately called Mr Herbert, said: "It has to pay for not meeting its contractual obligations." - which sounds like a fine to us. Mr Herbert also questioned our claim that the project was over budget. We thought he was wrong. But then on Friday the National Audit Office published its review of the NHS programme. We were told the programme wasn't over budget because the budget had been doubled to £12.4bn.

It gets better - the Department of Health always knew it would cost £12.4bn, rather than the £6.2bn they told us originally. We were also told the price covers only developing new systems, not putting them in place and making them run. Brilliant. "We're not over-budget because we've torn the budget up and thrown it out the window."

More on the sickly NHS here and here.

That's it for now. See you same time, next week.®

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