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Gates to step down from day-to-day role at Microsoft

LONDON - Microsoft is to lose its iconic leader Bill Gates, who has said he will give up all his day-to-day responsibilities within two years to focus on his charity foundation.

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Famous for dropping out of Harvard to start the venture that brought the world the ubiquitous Windows, Gates is now dropping out of Microsoft to spend the billions of dollars he has made on philanthropic aims such as eradicating polio and poverty in Africa.

Gates is the richest man in the world and the 10% of Microsoft he still owns is valued at £12bn. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has assets valued at £15.7bn.

His drawn-out departure from Microsoft began in 2000, when he appointed Steve Ballmer to succeed him as chief executive and took the role of chief software architect.

He has now handed that role to Ray Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes who joined Microsoft last year as chief technical officer. He said he would wind down his day-to-day involvement in the company by 2008, but hoped to stay on as chairman for the rest of his life.

Since Microsoft's creation in 1975, Gates has played a key role in the development of personal computers, first with the creation of MS-DOS and then the Windows operating system, which became the global standard and is estimated to be used on between 900m and 1bn PCs today.

In the mid 1990s, Gates changed Microsoft's direction to react to the emergence of the internet and was ruthless in winning the "browser wars" between Internet Explorer and its rivals such as one-time market leader Netscape. More recently, the company has expanded into the consumer entertainment sector with games console Xbox and computer-meets-TV hybrid Windows Media Centre PCs.

However, after it ran into trouble with regulators about its anti-competitive behaviour and suffered security problems in its software, its public image suffered. It has also lost the mantle of most innovative technology company to Google, which has introduced newer generation internet services that are perceived as a threat to the older company's business model.

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