LAS VEGAS-Ray Ozzie has on a black suit and a light blue oxford button-down shirt, no tie. I saw it … with my own eyes.
I say this because Ive begun to hear more and more of my friends and colleagues murmur about Ray Ozzie being the emperor with no clothes. This industry certainly has a few of those in prominent positions, but I dont believe Ray Ozzie is one of them.
After the initial buzz over Ozzie being hired at Microsoft and later assuming the role of chief software architect, a slot inherited from Microsoft Chairman and co-founder Bill Gates, it didnt take long for the chatter to start. Is there any there there? He is a one-hit wonder. Groove was a failure. Whats he going to do about Google? What is Microsofts services strategy? Hes always talking over our heads. How long do you think hes going to last? What has he even done lately? How come he never talks to us?
It didnt help that when Ozzie did come out and speak to an audience, such as at the Microsoft Financial Analyst Meeting last July, many folks said they had no idea what he was talking about.
He did come off a little highfalutin in that talk. But he was addressing folks in charge of influencing the movement of tons of money.
Take a look at these comments from his FAM 06 speech to financial analysts: “And finally, even though theres some level of entropy in any fundamental technology and market share, there are some very solid metrics that we can and will use to measure our progress and to intelligently manage our investments.
“Some years from now, as you look back on this time, this time Ive referred to as being a services transformation, I think youll view it as the beginning of a period where your view of software and servers and services became enmeshed and intertwined. And when you do look back on this era, Im confident that youll see that Microsoft was taking a leadership role in advancing the industry into this new era.”
But then Ozzie showed that he was fully dressed when he came out and addressed a crowd of developers and designers at the Microsoft Mix 07 event here on April 30. Ozzie deftly shed more light on the Microsoft software-plus-services strategy.
Contrast that FAM talk with Ozzies keynote at Mix 07: “The third part I would like to discuss today relates to the area of services innovation at Microsoft,” Ozzie said. “As some of you may be aware, over the past couple of years, theres been a progressive sea change going on within Microsoft, a transformation toward services, and toward software plus services. Some of these changes have been readily apparent on the Web. For example, we fundamentally refactored some of our MSN services into Windows Live Services: identity, contact, Spaces, mail and messaging. Services that are now in active use by more than a quarter of a billion people. These services are now composable and syndicatable, and theyre now woven into a number of other Microsoft properties, such as Office Live, which offers its users Windows Live Mail, and Xbox Live which supports instant messaging across the Xbox 360 game console and the PC.”
Now theres real stuff there. He went on to talk about new APIs and controls, and new terms for licensing some of the new services.
In short, Ozzie stood and delivered. And he got high marks from most everybody I talked with afterward.
However, one industry player remained skeptical. “He was good today,” the player said. “He was much, much better. But he still didnt really say anything.”
What does “say anything” really mean? Was he supposed to drop Microsofts competitive plans and product rollout strategy for the next five years? I think not.
Give the man a break. Had he not delivered major, game-changing software in his day I might be a little more skeptical myself. But the guy is no stranger to the software business and to working at major companies. He created Lotus Notes, for goodness sake.
The only flub, if you could call it that, that Ozzie made in his speech at Mix was he consistently addressed the crowd as “developers.”
Literally, almost the second thing out of his mouth, after thanking the announcer for introducing him and greeting the crowd, was: “This is the first time Ive spoken to a large developer audience since starting at Microsoft a little bit more than two years ago. Before that time, for many, many, many years, I would be sitting in that seat right beside you as a developer myself, a Microsoft partner, a Microsoft competitor.”
Mix is intentionally meant to be an event for both developers and designers, as Microsofts Expression design tools and designer-focused strategy account for nearly half of the sessions at the event.
Nick Petterssen, a product designer at Electric Rain, of Boulder, Colo., picked right up on the “developer” thing. “I was saying, What about us?” he said. “I was waiting for him to call out to us designers,” Petterssen joked.
However, Petterssen said he was impressed with Ozzies stage presence.
“In terms of delivery, Ray Ozzie was very smooth, elegant and articulate, and he made things really clear for me,” Petterssen said. “He clearly and succinctly laid out their overall strategy in not a lot of time and in an entertaining way.”
However, some say Ozzie will forever live in the shadow of his predecessor, Gates. He even addressed that in a Q&A session during the keynote.
“Of course Im living in the shadow of my predecessor,” Ozzie said humbly. “Clearly, inside Microsoft there will never be another Bill Gates. No, I am not Bill Gates.”
But thats not even the issue. And its certainly not the issue with the Ozzie critics I know. In fact, some of them never really gave a great deal of credit to Gates either! Perish the thought.
Internally, Microsoft officials appear to be big on Ozzie and his strategy, his eye for spotting hot technology trends and his style.
“You havent seen internally what Rays done,” said Charles Fitzgerald, general manager of platform strategy at Microsoft. “Hes a real CTO. He has a day job. There is a whole set of trajectories that get started up based on what Ray sets into place. Hell set the direction.”
Asked to provide a grade for how Ozzie has performed in his role, Fitzgerald gave him an A.
Brian Goldfarb, lead product manager for Web platform and tools at Microsoft, also gave Ozzie an A.
“He prioritizes the projects internally and works behind the scenes to make sure things get done, but hes not going to shout about it,” Goldfarb said. For instance, “Silverlight Streaming was his baby. That was his project, but you didnt see him taking credit for it.”
Of course, Fitzgerald and Goldfarb almost have to give Ozzie top grades-they like their jobs. But their comments were telling.
Fitzgerald said Ozzies competitive spirit burns bright, too, in internal sessions. You dont work with people like Jim Manzi and Steve Mills, and now Gates and Steve Ballmer, if you arent ready to compete to win. You wouldnt last very long otherwise. And Ozzies been in this industry a very long time.
So I just want to say it again. Ray Ozzie is nobodys nude emperor. He is fully clothed. I saw it with my own eyes. And my bet is hell see this services thing through.
What grade would you give Ozzie?
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