Steve Ballmer has announced that Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie is leaving and that his post will not be filled.
With our progress in services and the cloud now full speed ahead in all aspects of our business, Ray and I are announcing today Ray’s intention to step down from his role as chief software architect. He will remain with the company as he transitions the teams and ongoing strategic projects within his organization – bringing the great innovations and great innovators he’s assembled into the groups driving our business.
Woody Leonhard at Infoworld says "Ray Ozzie’s leaving Microsoft: What took him so long?" and Joe Wilcox opines that the problem was that Ozzie really wasn’t one of Steve Ballmer’s boys. Take the money and run, Ray – there are lots of places where you can do interesting technical work.
In my posts yesterday on the Microsoft Financial Analyst Meeting 2007, I focused on the concrete announcements and eschewed the high level pronouncements because frankly I was hard pressed to be sufficiently acerbic without appearing unduly negative. I don’t know that I have really resolved the quandary, but here are some thoughts on Microsoft’s new business initiatives as promulgated at FAM 2007 by Steve Ballmer, Ray Ozzie, Robbie Bach and Kevin Johnson.
Knowledge@Wharton has published an interview with Microsoft’s Ray Ozzie and while not particularly startling or technically revealing, it certainly inspires confidence that the man nominally charged with plotting Microsoft’s future technical direction in an increasingly connected landscape knows what he’s about:
In any successful enterprise you have to “keep the trains running on time,” as your primary obligation to shareholders and to the market. The biggest, most significant businesses that Microsoft has are the Windows business and the Office business, although the server and tools business is growing fairly rapidly. Those businesses need to continue to innovate, but I’ll say innovate with a “small i.”
These are just innovations within the core of what those products are intended to do. Then you step back and say, “Environmentally, what is changing that might fundamentally reshape these things?” And that’s why I separated the “small i” from the “big I” of innovation. As long as I’ve been in this industry, every five, six, or seven years there has been some fundamental change in the environment that gives one the opportunity to step back and say, “Could we serve those needs in a dramatically different way?” Today that really is all around services.
But the fact that so many people have high bandwidth [lets] us figure out how to balance what part of an application should be in a data center — somewhere “in the cloud” — and what piece of that solution should be on a desktop or on a mobile device. The right balance varies based on the application.
But that balance is far different moving forward than it has been in the past. When you have a very thin straw to a service, you tend to balance things differently than when it’s a higher bandwidth pipe.
So each group within Microsoft — and in our industry — is at a point where we should be saying, “If we’re aspiring to deliver productivity to a customer, how should we best weave that into services that are deployed through a browser? What aspects do you want mobile? What kind of synchronization should automatically be built in?
In each solution within our business, the people who are running those businesses should look at their customers and say, “Given these new tools at my customers’ disposal, how should we reshape this?”
The reason I say “nominally” is that while Ozzie may be Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect, he has neither the actual nor moral authority of his predecessor, Bill Gates, and there are lots of other powers and principalities at work within Microsoft:
The first thing I have to embrace to be successful is to go where people are and help them understand how to reshape themselves for the future on their terms. The Office group has a different culture than the Windows group, [which has a] different culture than the Xbox group. They do development differently; they do planning differently. So that’s number one.
Number two is that it’s highly social. We have to use a combination of center and edge in order to affect things. I may talk to the leaders of a group and ask them what their plans are. I use storyboarding, so I might map out a storyboard for how I would see things panning out moving forward.
At the same time, the people on my staff work directly with the people within the organization [who work for those] leaders so they can get the message in a less threatening way than having this guy at the top come in.
Things always occur through both leadership and grassroots mechanisms.
You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but not all flies want to be caught. We’ll all get to see how good Ozzie is at fly catching.
Yesterday, Ray Ozzie answered questions for the analyst and investor community at a Goldman Sachs conference in Las Vegas and the good news is that he didn’t tank the stock price (always a risk when Microsoft execs talk to analysts these days) although other market news lowered everyone’s boat quite nicely. The bad news is that Ozzie didn’t really have all that much to say. I listened to the webcast and and my only takeaways were:
Not exactly uplifting stuff. What was conspicuously not forthcoming from Microsoft’s Chief Architect was any real vision of Microsoft’s future or even of just the nascent ad-supported online services initiative that he fathered. There’s nothing wrong with playing your cards close to your chest, but undoubtedly investors would have a warmer feeling if they had been tossed some hints that everything was on track. MSFTextrememakeover summarizes:
If this was meant to be MSFT’s Software+Service strategy equivalent of the Sermon on the Mount, it fell short – and that was despite [perpetually wrong on MSFT] analyst Rick Sherlund’s repeated attempts to throw Ray a slow pitch in hopes he would knock one out of the park. He didn’t. It’s not that I can fault anything Ray said per se, it was all reasonable enough. It’s just that he didn’t say much that was concrete wrt plans or timeframes and it all sounded pretty conceptual at this stage…
Plus, comments like GOOG giving MSFT a “wake up call” … is hardly stock Viagra, especially when folks look at the fact that GOOG actually makes money on this “continuous investment” effort whereas MSFT doesn’t – at least so far.
The net is that while Ozzie survived his trip into the lions’ den, it wasn’t a bravura performance for himself or Microsoft, and did nothing to dispel the nagging doubts about Windows Live and the other new “Live” initiatives.