As expected, Microsoft's controversial Chief Technology Officer, Nathan Myhrvold, has left the company after an extended leave of absence. To many people, Myhrvold's departure is just one of many in the recent executive brain drain at the software giant, but Myhrvold, like Gates, was largely responsible for the quirky personality and drive that typifies Microsoft's employees, and his departure will likely cause mixed reactions, as he was both loved and feared by the people he worked with. Since his departure last July, the scientist has spent time hunting for dinosaur bones in Montana.
"I wasn't sure \[that I was going to leave permanently\]," Myhrvold says. "But, of course, there is always the possibility that when a guy takes a year off he'll find that other life more attractive. If I wanted to do a single thing, I'd go back to Microsoft. But there's so much I want to do and try, and so far I've been having a great time doing it."
Myhrvold has always been close to Gates who, for better or worse, has almost always given in to Myhrvold's advice. After working with Stephen Hawking, Myhrvold founded Microsoft research in 1991, where he led an insular community of scientists and researchers. And as he became rich at Microsoft, he pursued his life's dreams of learning to cook in France and fly his own private jet. Microsoft has poured billions of dollars into its Research arm with precious little to show for it, a major source of controversy that divides people's opinions of Myhrvold as effectively as his harsh people skills. Myhrvold was largely responsible for the company's abortive first attempt at MSN, which eschewed the then up-and-coming Internet to embrace the dying standalone online service model. Myhrvold fought against those in the company that wanted to make MSN an Internet portal, and won, as he had Gates' ear: The first version of MSN went on to become Microsoft's biggest mistake since Bob, and its underlying communications technology had to be completely scrapped. In 1999, Myhrvold was finally removed from the team that directly advised Gates, though he and Gates remain friends and the company says that Myhrvold will continue to advise the chairman going forward. Myhrvold left for a sabbatical in July 1999.
"Nathan's contributions to Microsoft and to the creation of Microsoft Research were critical," says Gates. "I look forward to continuing to work with Nathan, although it won't be in a full-time capacity." The company hasn't yet announced a successor to Myhrvold, though it's expected that Microsoft Research senior vice president Rick Rashid will pick up the baton and run with it