Microsoft was bracing itself to lose another senior executive, as Paul Maritz, group chief developer, appeared to step back from his operational role, prior to retirement as soon as next year.
A 13-year veteran at the firm, Maritz's plans to step down were foreshadowed in April, when he sold 900,000 shares in Microsoft, netting about $78m.
Maritz is the latest in a string of senior staff to cede their executive responsibilities this year. In June, Nathan Myhrvold, chief technology officer, revealed plans to take a year off to pursue personal interests.
Myhrvold's announcement attracted speculation that he was unlikely to come back in more than an advisory role.
Brad Silverberg, Windows 95 chief architect at Microsoft, also elected not to return to full-time duties earlier this year, following a 24-month break. The move ended rumours that a restructure at the vendor in March would see him return to take a hands-on role.
Maritz, who was the most senior executive to take the witness stand in the ongoing anti-trust trial, was savaged by the prosecution during intense questioning over Microsoft's dealings with its browser rival Netscape.
Dan Kusnetzky, programme director for operating environments at IDC, said Microsoft needed to retain quality people if it wanted to achieve its expansion plans, and claimed replacing staff at Maritz's level was always difficult.
He added: "Maritz had interesting ideas about technology and how to move them forward. His departure will be a loss."
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