Bill Gates will step out of a daily role at Microsoft in July 2008 to spend more time on global health and education initiatives through his foundation, the company said Thursday.

The Microsoft founder will remain as chairman and will also be an advisor to the company, but will give up his role as chief software architect.

"Obviously, this decision was a hard one for me to make," he said. "I feel lucky to have two passions that are so important to me. Even as I prepare to shift my focus, I know Microsoft is well-positioned [for the future]," the fifty year old retiree said.

Insiders said that Gates in recent years has become more passionate about his role as a philanthropist than about being the top executive at the world's largest software company. He said Thursday that he has a responsibility to make the world a better place with the "gift of great wealth" that has come from Microsoft's success.

Chief technology officer Ray Ozzie will immediately take over as chief software architect from Gates, working with Gates "on all technical architecture and product oversight responsibilities, to ensure a smooth transition," the company said. Chief technical officer Craig Mundie will take over the new role of chief research and strategy officer and will work closely with Gates to take over the company's research and development efforts.

The news was announced in a written statement and detailed in a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

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