Microsoft Shake-up Sees Bach, Allard Departure

Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices (E&D) Division, responsible for consumer products such as the Xbox and Zune media player, underwent a massive shake-up, with Robbie Bach, the unit's president, and J Allard, its senior vice president of Design and Development, both stepping down from their current positions. J Allard's departure had been preceded by days of rumors, but Bach's retirement came as more of a surprise to outside observers. J Allard will remain onboard as a consultant to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Microsoft named two other executives to manage the division's assets, although the unit's ultimate structure remains unclear.

Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices (E&D) Division seems to be in the midst of a massive shake-up, with the company announcing the departures of Robbie Bach, the unit's president, and J Allard, its senior vice president of Design and Development. Although rumors of Allard's leaving preceded the official announcement, the Bach departure-characterized by Microsoft as a retirement due to start this fall-came as a surprise to many.

The Entertainment and Devices Division is dedicated to more consumer-centric endeavors, such as the Xbox, the Zune media player and software for mobile devices like the recently released Kin phones.

J Allard, who along with Bach has logged around two decades' service with the company, will apparently remain at Microsoft in a consultant capacity to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. In addition to shepherding the Xbox franchise through development, he is credited with shipping more than 30 Microsoft products and helping shape the company's Internet strategy.

"For the past 22 years, Robbie has personified creativity, innovation and drive. With this spirit, he has led a division passionately devoted to making Microsoft successful in interactive entertainment and mobility," Ballmer wrote in a May 25 statement. "Given the strong leadership team he has built, the business performance of E&D this year and the launches of Windows Phone 7 and -Project Natal' this fall, we are set up well for success as we continue to drive our mobile and entertainment businesses forward."

The 48-year-old Bach indicated that he will devote more time in retirement "to my family and my nonprofit work."

In the same statement, Ballmer also offered praise for J Allard.

"J has brought a game-changing creative magic to Microsoft for years, from Windows to Xbox, from Zune to Kin," Ballmer wrote. "He was one of the key drivers in our early work on the Web, and we're absolutely delighted that J's role with the company will evolve in a way that lets all of Microsoft benefit from his business insight, technical depth and keen eye for the consumer experience."

On May 24, Microsoft had responded to eWEEK with "no comment" when asked whether Allard would be leaving the company. Online rumors suggested that Allard was either on sabbatical or resigned, reportedly after Microsoft killed his Courier tablet project. Leaked concept designs suggest Courier would have featured two touch screens linked by a booklike hinge, and capable of everything from Web surfing to longhand note-taking.

In a purportedly leaked memo that found its way online, Ballmer suggested that the Entertainment and Devices Division would undergo a major shake-up. "Concurrent with Robbie's retirement, I am making several organization changes to ensure we have the right leaders in the right positions as we set ourselves up for the next big wave of products and services," Ballmer wrote in the memo, as posted on tech sites such as Gizmodo. A Microsoft spokesperson declined to furnish eWEEK with a copy of the document.

Those "leaders" will include Senior Vice President Don Mattrick, who will lead the Interactive Entertainment Business, and Senior Vice President Andy Lees, who will head the Mobile Communications Business. Both those executives will report directly to Ballmer. Microsoft has not yet responded to eWEEK's query over whether their promotions mean the Entertainment and Devices Division will undergo a further restructuring, or even be eliminated entirely.

Microsoft also announced that Antoine Leblond, senior vice president in the Office Productivity Applications Group, will become senior vice president of the Windows Web Services team; and Kurt DelBene, senior vice president in the Office Business Productivity Group, will "take on all of the engineering responsibilities for the Office business."