Photo: Asa Mathat | All Things Digital
Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie is leaving Microsoft after a little more than five years in the post.By all accounts, Ozzie is a very smart person with great technical chops, and pleasant to work with as well. But he never controlled a significant product group at Microsoft, and since the retirement of Bill Gates, he’s basically been shunted to the side.
Ozzie was recruited to the post by Gates, who reportedly remarked that the $200 million acquisition of Ozzie’s company Groove was the best deal Microsoft ever made. With Gates’s support, in late 2005 Ozzie wrote an influential memo that explained how the rise of Internet services would be disruptive to Microsoft’s business, and he laid out some plans to address the challenge.
But a memo is just a memo, and Ozzie was never going to be able to fill Gates’s shoes. Gates occupied a unique role as the company’s founder, and until the early 2000s he personally reviewed almost every product that Microsoft released at least once before the release. Even after Steve Ballmer took as CEO in 2000, Gates was still influential in certain product groups, particularly Windows, and projects that he took a personal interest in, like tablet computing and smart watches, were given automatic green light status.
By the time Ozzie took over, the company was far too big for any one person to review all its products. Instead, Ozzie was supposed to fill the visionary spot that Gates used to fill, and act as a counterbalance to Ballmer’s all-business attitude. But although he and his teams helped design some of Microsoft’s online services, notably the Live Mesh sync service, Ballmer and Gates never gave him direct control of any major product group. Product group leaders like Steven Sinofsky (who took over Windows after the Vista debacle) and Bob Muglia (who oversees Microsoft’s fastest-growing business, which includes Windows Server and SQL Server) were encouraged to take Ozzie’s advice, but they weren’t required to.
And you can see it in how slowly and carefully Microsoft has moved to the cloud. The company began testing hosted services (like e-mail) for businesses in 2005, but is only now getting serious about pushing them. There’s still no real business version of Office in the cloud, although Microsoft will probably announce something along those lines tomorrow. Bing is showing decent progress, but only after five years and billions in investment, and Microsoft’s other consumer online services like Hotmail are still a usability nightmare, with biennial shifts in strategy and leadership that make it impossible for users or advertisers to take anything Microsoft does in that space as a serious long-term bet.
Ozzie’s recent lack of influence was clear from his lowered profile as well–he used to be a regular at Microsoft events like its annual Financial Analyst Meeting, but after explaining Google’s OS strategy to Ballmer on stage at last year’s AllThingsD conference–you can see the evidence in the transcript here at 9:11 a.m.–Ozzie has hardly been seen.
According to Steve Ballmer’s memo announcing the change, Ozzie will focus on Microsoft’s entertainment businesses for a while (Xbox?) before leaving. It will be interesting to see where he lands next. A lot of Microsoft’s cloud visionaries like Mark Lucovsky fled for Google, but that was several years ago. Maybe Facebook needs an elder statesman.
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