Expect to see More—Well, a Little More—of Ray Ozzie

Microsoft's Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie spoke at the annual Financial Analyst Meeting last week, and he gave his clearest, and most comprehensive, explanation of the company's services plus software strategy to date. That strategy was "a very big deal" for the company, he said, while also making it clear that the services will be for its classic software products.

But there have been a lot of questions about why Ozzie is not trotted out more often to talk about the company's Live and software plus services strategies, both of which fall squarely into his area of responsibility.

At Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Denver earlier this month, Ozzie was again "missing in action," with Microsoft's chief operating officer, Kevin Turner, and CEO Steve Ballmer taking the stage to spread the love about these initiatives.

I sat down for an interview with Turner after his keynote speech, and asked him about the scarcity of Ozzie appearances and what we could expect to see going forward.

Turner, who is helping lead the charge to get partners, developers and customers excited about this new direction for the Redmond, Wash., software maker, told me that part of that strategy includes seeing and hearing more from Ozzie, especially when Chairman Bill Gates transitions to his foundation full-time in 2008.

"So you will see and hear more and more from Ray, but Bill still has another year in his job. So, once Bill makes the transition a year from now, I suspect you'll see a little bit more of Ray, but he will never be as visible as Bill Gates is. He's not Bill Gates and he's not trying to be Bill Gates, so it's almost an unfair comparison, but one that we are probably stuck with. But that does mean that some of us have to pick the slack up, and we are starting to do that," he said.

But getting the message out loud and clear is vital to the success of this. Analysts like Michael Cherry, the lead Windows analyst at Directions on Microsoft, have said that the greatest challenge for Microsoft in 2007 is its performance.

"It has to get better at describing in meaningful and measurable terms its message around Windows and Office Live," Cherry said.

It appears Microsoft's executives have heeded that call, as the message behind software plus services and Live has been honed and made much clearer and more concise this year. Even before his talk at the recent analyst meeting, when Ozzie addressed a crowd of developers and designers at the Microsoft Mix 07 event in Las Vegas on April 30, he deftly shed more light on the Microsoft software plus services strategy.

"As some of you may be aware, over the past couple of years, there's 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," he told attendees at that time.

"Services that are now in active use by more than a quarter of a billion people. These services are now composable and syndicatable, and they're 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," he said.

That address was far more concise than the one he gave to the financial analyst meeting at Microsoft's campus last July, where he noted that a transformational shift to services will be necessary for all technology companies at this point, if they want to expand their relevance.

He went on to talk in vague generalities, saying that while the term "Internet services" was a broad one, it was really an architectural principle, a way of defining solutions, as well as an online value-based delivery model. The user was now firmly in control on the Internet and all of Microsoft's online products and services would have a connected, user-focused perspective.

With regard to Live and Windows Live, in particular, Ozzie said then that Microsoft needed to increase the number and quality of services it offers to attract users and increase usage, and had to optimize infrastructure and significantly increase the seamlessness of its services across multiple PCs and other devices.

He also emphasized that in the future, Windows Live would be the hub for the rest of the services that Microsoft rolls out across the company, from Windows Live ID to Windows Live Mail.

He concluded that "in summary, I believe a fundamental transformative shift to services is appropriate for all technology companies; there is a conceptual model that brings together desktop and services offering under our Windows Live services platform; and solid metrics can and will be used to manage products and measure returns and investments."

Given the rollout of a number of Windows Live services and betas this year, and the greater clarity about its services message, could it be that Microsoft is actually paying attention to what its core constituents are saying?