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Open-source attack dog enters Ballmer's inner ring

Microsoft's Research chief steps aside before retirement

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The head of Microsoft’s research has quietly stepped aside ahead of his retirement next year to join CEO Steve Ballmer's inner circle.

Craig Mundie, a 20-year Microsoft veteran, is now a senior advisor to Ballmer after six years as the company's chief research and strategy officer. Mundie took that role as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates announced in 2006 he was stepping down from day-to-day duties to spend more time with his vaccines.

Mundie headed a worldwide boffinry operation whose facilities included Microsoft Research Cambridge in the UK, the place that developed important depth-sensing algorithms for Redmond's motion-tracking Kinect gadget.

He was also responsible for Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing initiative and the Technology Policy Group. Trustworthy Computing was rolled out as Windows XP and Internet Explorer were hit hard by malware writers in the early 2000s; the software giant temporarily put development on hold to shore up its products' security defences.

According to a company memo from Ballmer in December 2012, seen by Bloomberg:

The establishment of Trustworthy Computing changed how Microsoft and the entire computer industry thinks about security and privacy and the Technology Policy Group continues to help shape the long-term technology-policy landscape in ways that will give our future products a clear path in the marketplace.

Mundie will retire in 2014 after he turns 65. The drawn-out exit echoes the departure of Gates, who settled into the role of non-executive chairman in 2008 some two years after announcing his retreat. It's in contrast to the swift departure of Windows group president Steven Sinofsky, who left immediately in November 2012 - mere weeks after the Windows 8 launch.

Ballmer told his troops that Mundie, in his new role, will “continue his work with governments and policymakers around the world, and will additionally work closely with me and other SLT [Strategic Leadership Team] members on key strategic projects”.

Taking over from Mundie is the chief developer evangelist for Microsoft’s server and tools division Eric Rudder – a group senior vice-president.

Rudder also served as vice-president of technical strategy under Gates, was a general manager for Visual Studio, and also helped build the .NET programming model and tools for the client and server.

While Rudder helped build .NET, Mundie hit the headlines in 2001 when he tried to steer third-party programmers towards Microsoft’s new architecture by scaring them off using open-source and free software, which was raising its profile thanks to Linux.

Setting out Microsoft’s position at New York University, Mundie claimed open source resulted in “unhealthy forking” of code and the “viral” nature of the free software movement's GPL threatened developers' intellectual property and undermined commercial product development.

Speaking as Microsoft was ramping up its campaign against open source and Linux – Ballmer called Linux a “cancer” – while promoting .NET, Mundie said the open-source software model: “Isn’t successful in building a mass market and making powerful, easy-to-use software broadly accessible to consumers.”

In a world of Red Hat, Ubuntu, Android and MySQL to name just four influential projects based on open-source and free software efforts, the above statements by a tech company's research chief are perhaps hard to swallow.

Microsoft has mellowed its position since 2001 as it found customers and developers were ignoring it and picking between the open-source and the Redmond option - especially in the data centre. In that kind of scenario Microsoft risked losing its tight grip on the business sector for ever. Rudder comes from one Microsoft division, at least, that's learned to interoperate with rival operating systems and platforms if only to help sales of Windows servers and tools. ®

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