After Bill Gates and Paul Allen created their first Microsoft software program in Cambridge, Mass., it’s been mostly downhill for the company’s R&D in the Bay State. The latest blow came Monday with the announcement that chief software architect Ray Ozzie would leave Microsoft.
Appointed five years ago to fill the software architecting void left by Gates’ move to chairman, Ozzie, a close friend of Gates’, was named to take Microsoft in new profitable directions and to reinvigorate the R&D facilities in Cambridge. The drive immediately took on a competitive flavor because Google was developing its own R&D operation in Kendall Square, near Microsoft’s offices in the shadow of MIT.
Almost immediately, problems surfaced for Microsoft in Cambridge. There was litigation with database provider InterSystems, which battled Microsoft over office space at One Memorial Drive.
The company’s Startup Labs operation, which had started promisingly, ran into early difficulties when its director, Reed Sturtevant, suddenly left in October 2009.Like Ozzie, Sturtevant had worked at Lotus Development Corp., which rode Ozzie’s Lotus Notes to fame and fortune. Microsoft said the Startup Labs would be combined with its Rich Media Lab, both to be run from Redmond’s MRS Creative Systems.
Lili Cheng was named to head the new operation and report to Ozzie. The bicoastal life led by Ozzie seemed to fly in the face of cohesive management, as Microsoft struggled to coordinate several operations in Massachusetts, and Ozzie reportedly couldn’t properly coordinate with rebellious units in Washington State.
At the same time, the pressure on Microsoft to develop facilities in Massachusetts was mounting. In a controversy over ODF standards precipitated by the Massachusetts state CIO, IBM and Sun Microsystems pointedly noted that Microsoft had relatively few employees and facilities in the Bay State, putting pressure on the software giant to beef up its Massachusetts operations. The controversy has faded, and so has pressure on Microsoft to create more jobs and facilities in Massachusetts.