June 23, 2006 10:00 AM PDT

Week in review: Microsoft metamorphosis

As summer heats up, the game of musical chairs at Microsoft is heating up as well.

In the wake of last week's announcement that Bill Gates will move away from his role as Microsoft's chief software architect, Martin Taylor, a key adviser to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, abruptly left the software maker. Taylor, a 13-year company veteran who led Microsoft's "Get the Facts" anti-Linux crusade for several years, was named in March as a corporate vice president overseeing the marketing push for Windows Live services.

Highlighting the abruptness of the departure, reports noted that Taylor had been quoted Monday in a press release announcing Windows Live Messenger, the new version of Microsoft's instant messaging software.

The departure comes after the company chose Ray Ozzie to fill the chief software architect role, and Craig Mundie to assume responsibility for research and policy matters. Microsoft also has a new internal online system aimed at tapping a broader pool of top minds to craft the company's technology strategy. All that raises the question of whether there will be too many chefs in Microsoft's kitchen.

By his nature and because of who he is, Gates has been the ultimate arbiter for technical debates at Microsoft. There is also the question of just how much ground Gates will cede to his handpicked successors. Longtime Gates associates doubt that the tech icon will step too far back.

CNET News.com readers seemed to welcome the change, saying it was overdue.

"I believe less is more," wrote one reader to the News.com TalkBack forum, tongue in cheek. "Let a few fellows really rip Vista apart, and maybe get a good OS. Sorry, I was being foolishly optimistic. My bad."

The company is also aiming to further democratize its technical leadership. A key part of that is a new internal communications system designed to allow workers to spitball ideas on where the company should be headed, CNET News.com has learned.

In an interview, Gates said that the system, known as Quests, is still in the early stages of development. Still, it "gets us to be really specific about the future of the home, the future of the office, the future of the data center," he said.

A little piracy, er, privacy
Microsoft is also enduring a little heat for its Windows Genuine Advantage program, which is tied to its free software downloads and updates, and checks whether the Windows installation on a PC is pirated. But some people, including some who say they own a legitimately acquired copy of Windows, have challenged the need for such validation.

Most of their criticism is directed at the way Microsoft's antipiracy technology interacts with a PC. Recently, the software maker was lambasted over its WGA Notifications tool, which it pushes out as a "high priority" update alongside security fixes.

There have also been complaints about the tool collecting information from PCs and causing system troubles. Some Windows users have started to search for ways around the antipiracy technology, setting up a struggle between Microsoft and WGA opponents.

On another front in the piracy battle, the operators of a file search engine presented more details regarding the alleged relationship between the Motion Picture Association of America and a man who admits hacking the small company's network. Valence Media, the parent company of Torrentspy.com, charges that the MPAA paid the Canadian resident $15,000 for information on Torrentspy and its executives, according to court documents.

"I contacted (the MPAA) and offered to provide it information regarding (Torrentspy.com founder) Justin Bunnell and Torrentspy," according to a signed statement by Robert Anderson, the man identified elsewhere in the filing as a "hacker." Among the claims by Valence Media is that as part of the MPAA's attempt to gather information on Torrentspy, the association hired private investigators to comb the trash cans of Torrentspy executives.

Meanwhile, major technology companies are clamoring for Congress to write uniform national privacy standards aimed at boosting customer confidence and relieving the industry from what some consider a complex patchwork of state and local laws. eBay and Hewlett-Packard executives pitched those suggestions to a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on consumer protection.

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Bill Gates, chief software architect, Week in review, antipiracy, reader

 

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