Bill Gates announced this afternoon that he intends to relinquish day-to-day responsibilities at Microsoft starting in 2008. (Here is the link to an Associated Press story and to Microsoft's official statement.)

Gates says that the plan to retire in order to spend more time on his foundation was "a hard decision" but, he added, "I firmly believe the road ahead for Microsoft is as bright as ever."

The news raises three immediate and obvious questions:

1. How will Microsoft fare without Gates' active participation?

2. What will Gates' lasting business legacy be? That he made computing easy? That his lethal competitive instincts prevented more technological innovation? That he inspired other companies to create wealth through stock options in the same way that he minted thousands of Microsoft millionaires twenty years ago? That he set a new, sky-high bar in terms of wealth and impact that entrepreneurs worldwide will chase for years to come? Or something else?

3. Finally, the wildcard question: will Gates ever get the itch to start another company? If so, what might it be?