Mobile // Mobile Applications
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10/25/2010
08:00 PM
Dave Methvin
Dave Methvin
Commentary
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Does Ray Ozzie's Departure Matter?

Stores selling gold watches in Redmond, Washington must be doing great business lately. Microsoft's Chief Software Architect, Ray Ozzie, became the company's latest executive to announce that he will retire soon. I'm not sure that it matters.

Stores selling gold watches in Redmond, Washington must be doing great business lately. Microsoft's Chief Software Architect, Ray Ozzie, became the company's latest executive to announce that he will retire soon. I'm not sure that it matters.Ozzie took over technical direction at Microsoft when Bill Gates announced he would retire in June 2006. Ozzie had made his way to Redmond when his former company, Groove Networks, was acquired by Microsoft in 2005. As the designer of Lotus Notes, Ozzie showed that had some technical chops. Any Lotus Notes user would tell you, however, that the implementation of that vision often left a lot to be desired.

Ozzie's "Internet services disruption" memo from 2005 said all the right things, but we've just started to see some of these things delivered in 2010. Five years is an eternity in Internet time. Ozzie has recapped Microsoft's progress in a memo released this week, but even today the company has not executed on many of Ray Ozzie's original ideas.

One of the things that makes it hard to determine Ray Ozzie's impact on Microsoft is that he's been nearly invisible, at least outside the company. Remember, this is the man who took the technical reigns from Bill Gates. Yet before this week's announcement his name appeared once in an InformationWeek site search for all of 2010. Bill Gates, who isn't even at Microsoft anymore, has dozens more mentions than does Ozzie.

It never was completely clear why Bill Gates left Microsoft. Clearly, philanthropic interests started to fire more of his passion early in the decade. Yet I wonder whether Gates himself was driven out of the company as he started to run into the same kind of brick wall that Ozzie encountered. If there was a wall that Gates couldn't get through, Ozzie had no chance from the beginning.

Perhaps Ozzie's low profile was because he could never be Bill Gates. His lack of influence was compounded because he wasn't hooked to one of the company's cash cows. Instead, he has often been associated with projects such as Live Labs and Fuse Labs that (when they survive) seem to have no significant influence on what Microsoft really does.

Right now, it's too early to tell what Ray Ozzie's legacy will be at Microsoft. Positive signs of Ray Ozzie's vision can already be seen in tangible services like Azure and Live Mesh. In a few years we may be able to determine if Microsoft was able to successfully implement that vision in its slow-moving way, or whether Ozzie spent five unsuccessful years trying to teach an old dog new tricks.

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