Today is Bill Gates' last day in the office as a regular employee of the company he co-founded in 1975. But as non-executive chairman and someone who is deeply married to Microsoft, Gates is not disappearing from the company.
The transition has been well orchestrated, and he will still spend about 20 percent of his time working on Microsoft issues, such as the next-generation Office, natural interfaces, and search. And, he will still obsess and strategize about how to defeat Google.
I have been covering Microsoft and Bill Gates for the last 25 years, and I've had a few memorable run-ins with the him over that time. I remember asking him about upstart programming language Java's write once/run anywhere capability in an interview I did with him in the early 1990s. He sat forward in his chair and said with conviction that Java was a stupid idea. Behind that answer, the hyper-competitive Gates was thinking about how to slay the Java dragon. Several years later Microsoft C# appeared.
And who can forget his duel with David Boies in the U.S. Justice Department vs. Microsoft antitrust case. Gates believed that the government was out to destroy Microsoft, and went on the offensive. To this day, he chafes at being called a "convicted monopolist."
In many ways Gates is very much the same as when I met him a few decades ago. His tenacity, intellectual intensity, passion for technology, and competitiveness have remained intact. Now he will be applying those character traits more fully to eradicating polio, malaria, AIDS, and other diseases at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
I can imagine one of his chief rivals, Steve Jobs, giving him a gold-plated iPhone 3G for his retirement with the inscription: "To Bill Gates: Look who's ahead now. Best of luck, Steve Jobs."
That would like dangling meat in front of a hungry lion. Gates would accept the gift with a wry smile and at the same time think about what it would take to trump the iPhone. Even though Vista didn't leapfrog the Mac OS, and Microsoft has rarely been able to out-innovate Apple, the fire is still burning and Gates will be firing off a flurry of e-mails to Steve Ballmer and others he's left in charge.
The planet will be better off with Gates focused on technologies and strategies for saving lives rather than defeating Steve Jobs.