What Did Ray Ozzie Do (and Not Do)? That's the Question.

 
 
By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2010-10-19 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

As former Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie leaves the company, what has he done for Microsoft and where is the company headed in his wake?

Ray Ozzie has announced his plans to leave Microsoft and it is not the end of the world as we know it. In fact, in the scheme of things in the day-to-day activities of the company, Ozzie's departure means very little.

Why? Because, despite all that he has done behind the scenes to bring muster to Microsoft's overall cloud strategy and to build teams that could promote the company's services push, that work was largely done. And observers say Ozzie was pretty much nonexistent in the role of what one might consider to be a Chief Software Architect.

Some folks are saying this move might be a death knell for Microsoft, or at least for CEO Steve Ballmer. That could not be farther from the truth. Ballmer is going nowhere. He credits Ozzie for doing his part, citing Ozzie's seminal Internet Services Disruption memo as having a key impact in changing direction at Microsoft. However, folks who believed that Ozzie was the heir apparent to Bill Gates and that he would take the reins of the company someday were misinformed, or at most wishful. When Gates and Ballmer announced Ozzie's role in the company five years ago, they never indicated he would become CEO. And Ozzie never showed an interest in it. Instead, Ozzie quickly indicated that was not his goal. He is most comfortable putting together small, strategic teams that can pull off amazing feats of engineering, like the so-called "Red Dog" team that delivered Windows Azure.

Ozzie didn't want to run Microsoft, and had that been part of the deal when he was hired, my sense is he would have refused the job.

But what did he do there? He brought his understanding of services and delivering software as a service. Ozzie, from way back, knew the value of enabling developers and users to collaborate to create and better use applications. He was collaboration when collaboration wasn't cool. Enter Notes, his baby, and later Groove - ideas viewed as before their time. This formed the foundation of Ozzie's sync ideas and thus the Live Mesh and cloud efforts.

Yet, given that Ozzie had enormous shoes to fill the job came with a huge enormous burden. However, as he was handpicked by Microsoft's former chief software architect, Bill Gates, Ozzie assumed the role. Now, five years after accepting a position at the world's largest software company, Ozzie is stepping down.

John Rymer, an analyst with Forrester, said of Ozzie, "He was the point man at that meeting on cloud, and he did a great job outlining the challenges and opportunities for Microsoft. Compared to Bill Gates, Ozzie maintained a low profile. People in Microsoft told me Ozzie was a respected leader, and I think he deserves credit for helping Microsoft transition to cloud - a transition that is still incomplete. But talk about a tough act to follow! Gates was not only company founder, but a genius and *the* technical leader at Microsoft. I don't think Ozzie ever had Gates' stature, but then again, who could?

Nobody could. But he didn't have to. He wasn't expected to. And he shouldn't have.

Yet, a lot of what he was expected to do, Ozzie just didn't deliver on. One was being able to convey his ideas in a way that the common everyday developer and end user could digest them. Instead, Ozzie talk in highfalutin terms and analogies that required coddling and interpretation. And then often he simply did not talk. At the most recent Microsoft Financial Analyst Meeting (FAM) at the company's Redmond, Wash., campus, Ozzie was not a scheduled speaker, but instead lurked around the facility and allowed analysts to approach him with questions.

To this point, in an Oct. 19 blog post, Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at Twentysix New York and a Microsoft regional director, said:

"Ozzie's vision for Microsoft, that it embrace services and make a big bet on the cloud, was good, as far as it went.  But when the -We're All In' speech took place in March at the University of Washington, it was Steve Ballmer, not Ray Ozzie, who delivered the address.  Ozzie sat in the front row, looking on as someone else articulated his own vision.  Microsoft needs a technical visionary who aspires to more than working behind the scenes.  Ozzie's stepping down may enable such a visionary to step up.

"I would have thought such a visionary would assume the Chief Software Architect post, but Ballmer has stated explicitly that he will not be hiring anyone new into that title.  I find this odd.  Someone needs to step into the role of technical thought leader at Microsoft, and take full ownership of the role and its responsibilities.  That role, clearly, will not be called Chief Software Architect."

Mike Sax, founder of sax.net, a marketplace for .NET components and parts for building mobile apps, said:

"Ray Ozzie had impossibly big shoes to fill. Bill Gates not only had the ability to deeply understand all of Microsoft's technologies and define a common direction for them, he also was a brilliant business mind. On top of that, Bill had the respect and authority within Microsoft to have everyone passionately work towards a common vision.

"If you put aside expectations for Ozzie as a second Bill Gates and only evaluate him as a software architect, he did very well: Microsoft's products have become higher quality over the years, they integrate better with each other and products from other vendors, and they're quickly embracing cloud computing. What's not to like?"

Ozzie's departure does leave a void. However, not one as big as folks might think. Microsoft does not need a Chief Software Architect in the way that Gates was. And Ozzie never attempted that, What Microsoft needs is some overarching ubergeek who can look at and piece the various parts together to play well under one roof. And there are folks in-house that come to mind that can do that. A couple of names that quickly come to mind are S. "Soma" Somasegar and Amitabh Srivastava. Somasegar is senior vice president of the Developer Division at Microsoft, and Srivastava is senior vice president of Microsoft's Server and Cloud Division with responsibilities for Windows Azure and Windows Server and a core member of the Red Dog team that delivered Windows Azure. They could do it. No need to go outside the company and get someone unknown to the masses.

Besides, Ballmer says he is not going to fill the role of chief software architect now. And, again, he doesn't need to.

Al Hilwa, an IDC analyst, takes a practical approach with his view on the subject:

"From reading the latest org chart, Microsoft has organized into multiple autonomous groups and probably has decided that its businesses are too diverse to have an overarching chief software architect.  Now they have multiple presidents likely with their own architects, and so a chief software architect might end up being chief of very little.  One could ask it is difficult for outsiders to succeed in leading Microsoft. My answer is that to some extent, yes it is difficult. This is a common problem with companies that experience early-stage meteoric success in that their rapid success creates a distance between internal execs and outsiders who are seen as not having been responsible for the greatness.  You will generally find that companies accept outsiders more easily when there is a significant sense of crisis, which Microsoft is not really close to by the numbers. They do have challenges for sure, but it appears that they are working through them, especially in mobile and cloud. I would say, with very few exceptions, there are no visionaries, there are only companies willing to change."

Still you need a hand in there to sort of guide things, even subtly.

And as the famed anonymous Microsoft blogger, Mini-Microsoft, indicates, perhaps that hand should not be so subtle. Talking about the infamous Bill gates reviews and the impact they had on the company, Mini-Microsoft wrote in an Oct 18 post:

"The rigor of a focused, intellectually deep and sturdy software development declined with BillG's departure. No more technical assistants. No gauntlet of the BillG review. On his way out of the company, Bill anointed Ray to serve as Chief Software Architect. I don't think that was Ray's idea. In fact, I can only imagine him tilting his head and saying, "Wha-?" He didn't take a broad view of Microsoft at all, but rather focused on growing the Groove momentum into other areas for the future.

Meanwhile. Ozzie's departure comes amid a bunch of recent departures including Gary Flake, Brad Lovering, Doug Purdy, Brad Allard, Robbie Bach, and Brad Abrams. What does this mean for Microsoft?

What it shows is that Microsoft like most big companies has its share of ills and moves that shake things up and cause inertia.

Indeed, I got it pretty straight from sources close to the situation that Gates personally courted IBM's Grady Booch for the Microsoft CSA position before Ozzie. And Microsoft went back to Booch more than a year into Ozzie's tenure to gauge his interest. And although he would not say exactly what position Microsoft courted him for, Java creator James Gosling said there was not enough dynamite available for him to take a job trying to work at Microsoft. The dynamite would be to blow up the dead wood.

Comparing his chances at succeeding in the role Ozzie took on, Gosling told eWEEK:

"The chance that they'd give me the necessary dynamite is even slimmer.  From what I can tell, he left because he lost a power struggle with the Microsoft traditionalists. He seems to have been pointing them in the right direction. I'd be even more extreme, hence more likely to be rejected. Microsoft is moving closer to the grave. They need to rethink everything from the ground up. I've got some pretty strong opinions on what the right thing to do is."

And while Gosling mentioned the use of dynamite, Booch, the last time he spoke of Microsoft's ills, said he didn't think even the famed emotional fix-it man Dr. Phil could cure what ails the company.

Al Hilwa said of Ozzie, "He put together the initial cloud strategy but it transitioned from under him to the server and tools group. Before that he drove the ramp-up to cloud services overall. However, from a money making perspective these have not yet been the big money makers. I think overall the concept of a single overarching software architect is only really applicable if a company is playing in a single domain. For example, he had no impact on the Xbox or gaming strategy nor to any noticeable degree on the mobile strategy. Microsoft plays in tens of IDC software markets, and any single person would be hard pressed to have a vision across a significant number of them."

A leader of a prominent software company in the Windows ecosystem, who asked not to be identified, said, "Microsoft totally missed out on Search, Social networking and the Smartphone.... Ray was Chief..... Something has to give! It takes vision and leadership."

Moreover, Mini-Microsoft delivers another solid salvo in his post, saying:

"I feel with Ray Ozzie's departure that Steve Ballmer has finally asserted his complete control over the company. We've had some house cleaning this year, ranging from Mr. Ozzie to Mr. Bach & Mr. Allard to Technical Fellows to continued targeted layoffs. Perhaps this is due to the big, contemplative review Mr. Ballmer had with the Microsoft Board this year. Mr. Ballmer has hit the reset button. Do we have a Hail Mary pass, or is this Ballmer 2.0?"

Mini is on his game here. Because Ballmer is going nowhere. And those calling for an early exit for Ballmer or the impending death of Microsoft are mistaken. The only thing that would hasten Microsoft's demise is if the company would promote COO Kevin Turner to CEO. Based on the word of many sources in the company, it appears he is reviled by the much of the rank and file and viewed, literally, vocally by some who have characterized him as an unimaginative cost-cutting bean counter. Promoting Turner, a rah-rah numbers man would be a mistake. And, should he ascend, the exits seen of late will look like nothing. If Turner takes over, it will be like the three blind mice, and we shall see how they run.

 

 
 
 
 
Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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