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Microsoft Faces Life After Ozzie

By Mike Pearson
Oct 19, 2010 11:28 AM PT

Ray Ozzie is out as chief software architect at Microsoft, opening a big void through which analysts are tossing innumerable opinions regarding what the departure means for the company.

Microsoft Faces Life After Ozzie

Ozzie's role was frequently seen as being Bill Gates' successor as the company's visionary technologist, a foil to CEO Steve Ballmer's purely business-minded approach.

In a letter to employees Monday, Ballmer praised Ozzie as the leader who helped push Microsoft wholesale into the cloud but added that with much of that work done, Ozzie had decided to step down.

Ballmer said he doesn't plan to replace Ozzie, sparking considerable debate about where the company's technology vision will come from now.

"The problem with Microsoft is that in the early days, Bill Gates led from his heart," Paul Saffo, managing partner at Discern Analystics told the E-Commerce Times. "Steve Ballmer is all head and no heart."

Ozzie Bio

Ozzie joined Microsoft as chief technical officer in 2005 after the company acquired Groove Networks, a collaboration software business he had founded nearly a decade earlier. He became chief software architect in 2006, when Gates stepped back from day-to-day supervision of Microsoft, and was placed in charge of overall technology strategy and helping push high-priority projects to market.

He previously helped found the company that developed Lotus Notes, the e-mail program.

In 2005, he famously penned a memo to Microsoft leaders addressing the threat of Internet-based and ad-supported services to Microsoft's business model and urging the company forward in meeting those challenges.

Ballmer credited the memo and Ozzie's approach with helping catalyze Microsoft's move to cloud-based applications with the Windows Azure platform for hosted applications, Windows Live and cloud-based enhancements to SharePoint and Exchange.

Impact Muted

Ozzie clearly had a huge impact at Microsoft, Saffo said.

"He did more to give the company architectural discipline than anyone," he said. "Ray Ozzie more than anyone else represented someone who was dragging Microsoft's technology into the future."

However, Ozzie's potential impact was hobbled from the start by Microsoft's culture and internal divisions, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Gartner Research. "In many ways, he was brought in to be the technical heir to Bill [Gates]," Gartenberg told the E-Commerce Times. "It's not clear an outsider could do that job."

No Replacement

And it doesn't appear anyone will.

Ballmer said in his email that the company has strong technical leaders in its various business groups and that the chief software architect job was a unique one.

That could mean Microsoft's technology vision will get pushed down to the offices of each product group, said Al Hilwa, an IDC analyst and Microsoft veteran. "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," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Now they have multiple presidents likely with their own architects, and so a chief software architect might end up being chief of very little."

Ozzie's Future

In his e-mail, Ballmer said Ozzie will remain with Microsoft for a while to help transition his team. He will focus on unspecified entertainment projects while winding down his time with the company.

Then what?

Saffo, who has known Ozzie for years, said he expects a start-up looming.

"In the last couple of years, it was increasingly obvious Ray's talents were being wasted," he said. "I'm sure he has a whole bunch of new ideas inside of him."

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