Why Robbie Bach Left Microsoft, and Why It MattersS

Microsoft President of Entertainment and Devices—that's Xbox, Zune, Kin, Courier, et al—Robbie Bach announced his retirement today. And in his exit interview with TechFlash, he holds forth on the once and future Microsoft. So Robbie: what happens now?

Not surprisingly, Bach's diplomatic about his reasons for leaving: the business is in good shape, he wants to pursue personal interests, the timing of his and J. Allard's departures are totally coincidental. And while it may seem odd for a relatively young exec—and potential Ballmer successor—to leave at such a critical time in his department's history, we'll just have to take his word for it. I mean, the guy's sitting on 22 years worth of Microsoft stock options. it's not like he has to work.

But what about the products? Bach downplays the role tablets will play in the future:

Well, tablet is an area that will evolve going forward. Certainly it's a focus for what we're doing in the Windows space, and how they're thinking that space. We're going to have a bunch of netbooks and tablet stuff that's in the works there. We'll just see how that evolves. I don't think there's anything earth-shattering about that. It's just another set of devices, and we'll figure out how we make sure we bring a good offering to consumers.

Which isn't surprising, since Microsoft doesn't currently have a viable Windows 7 tablet contender in the pipeline. Although Courier, that dream project shot down before it ever existed, might not be as dead as we think:

Courier, first of all, wasn't a device. The project and the incubation and the exploration we did on Courier I view as super important. The "device" people saw in the video isn't going to ship, but that doesn't mean we didn't learn a bunch and innovate a bunch in the process. And I'm sure a bunch of that innovation will show up in Microsoft products, absolutely confident of it.

The body is dead, but the spirit lives on? If true, that's reason to be excited.

There are other semi-juicy bits in here about Project Natal—"a midlife kicker for the 360"—and Bach's years of service and succession plans. And while Bach "feels great about [Microsoft's] prospects" going forward, I can't help but think they've lost a singularly important innovator in Bach. Someone who wasn't afraid to take huge losses on creating the Xbox from scratch, and who helped breathe life into Windows Phone 7. Read the whole interview not just for a look at where Microsoft's going, but for invaluable insight into what they've lost. [TechFlash]