The executive attrition at Microsoft continues, and this time the loss is a sore one. Group vice president of Platform Strategy Paul Maritz announced this week that he is leaving the software giant after 14 years of service to retire. Maritz, who will continue to consult with Microsoft on strategic and business issues, was widely considered to be an unabashedly intelligent man with zero tolerance for fools. And he was one of the few Microsoft employees who didn't embarrass himself during testimony at the company's antitrust trial. Indeed, a calm and unemotional Maritz was the only witness that was able to rattle government attorney David Boies, who had his way with most of the other witnesses. During his tenure at Microsoft, Maritz played a key role in virtually every strategy that was made by the company.

"Paul is truly a leader among leaders, and it has been a privilege to work alongside such an intelligent, wise, honest and wonderful human being for so many years," said Steve Ballmer, the president and CEO of Microsoft. "While he will be deeply missed, I understand Paul's decision--for personal reasons and after nearly 14 years at Microsoft--to do some of the other things in his life that he'd like to do. The good news is that Paul will continue to work closely with me, Bill Gates and other senior leaders in the company as a consultant on key strategic and business issues."

Interestingly, when Microsoft reported a reorganization that saw Maritz and senior VP Jim Allchin co-leading a branch of the Microsoft empire early this year, I wondered aloud in WinInfo whether either man would "see out the year." In May, Allchin announced an extended vacation that Microsoft observers saw as his swansong, and Allchin still hasn't returned to work. With the departure of Maritz, it appears that both men are now gone for good. Though Allchin and Maritz weren't exactly compatible individuals, both were directly responsible for Microsoft's strategic decisions over the past decade. And the loss of both men leaves a gaping hole at the executive level of a company that is reeling from its legal troubles, regardless of the spin that Microsoft places on the news