At a hastily scheduled news conference Thursday, Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, announced that in two years he will step down from his full-time jobs at the company to reorganize his personal priorities and focus more on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates will continue to work part-time at Microsoft after July 2008, however, as Chairman and Senior Technical Advisor.

"I want to spend more time on Foundation efforts in the future," Gates said. "I will shift my priorities and yet maintain strong ties with Microsoft. It's a two-year transition plan, during which I will shift my day-to-day responsibilities ... to a great team of people. We can make this transition without missing a beat."

Why announce this change more than two years before it happens? Gates said that announcing his departure now was the right thing to do so that Microsoft would have time to make the transition with full transparency to its customers and partners.

A few of Microsoft's senior executives are being repositioned in response to Gates's eventual departure. Ray Ozzie will immediately become Microsoft's chief software architect, and Craig Mundie will become the new chief research and strategy officer, also effective immediately.