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Ray Ozzie Challenges Microsoft To Dream Small

Ray Ozzie, as it turns out, is a pretty darn good writer. The soon-to-be-ex-Microsoft chief software architect laid out effectively, at times even beautifully, his vision for the future of computing in an entry on his new blog.

Lots of folks have taken a shot at dissecting Ozzie's little manifesto; our favorite interpretation comes from esteemed Microsoft watcher and Redmond magazine columnist Mary Jo Foley. Allow us, though, if you will, to break down in the very simplest and most direct of terms what Ozzie says so eloquently: Microsoft is too fat, too slow and too dependent on fading technologies.

Oh, sure, Ozzie gives his employer all kinds of credit for making headway in the cloud and in service-oriented computing. After all, he has to have been doing something there for the last five years, right? But the bulk of Ozzie's prose is a gentle but convincing indictment of a company that, at its core, is still all about Windows and Office and has allowed itself to be caught and passed certainly in the mobile arena and probably in the cloud as well.

It's clear that Ozzie, never the most forceful of public communicators, takes some of Microsoft's Windows-first mentality personally and doesn't really appreciate it too much. Just read this paragraph from his blog entry and replace the word "complexity" with the word "Windows:"

"Complexity kills. Complexity sucks the life out of users, developers and IT. Complexity makes products difficult to plan, build, test and use. Complexity introduces security challenges. Complexity causes administrator frustration."

OK, so maybe he's not addressing Windows directly there...but he could be, and his tone leads us to think in that direction. "Complexity kills" seems to not-so-loosely translate to "obsession with fat-client Windows will be your downfall, Microsoft." And he's right. As Ozzie says so artfully -- and he's hardly the only person to say it, nor is this the first time he's said it -- computing as a concept and a practice is changing. It's about services, simplicity, thinness and flexibility -- four words that don't exactly describe Windows.

If we might extrapolate a bit from Ozzie's text, Windows should be a necessary evil at Microsoft, the revenue driver that the company can't quit producing but definitely should put on the development back burner. Instead, Microsoft talks a good game about mobile and the cloud but doesn't show enough real commitment to either; Windows is still where the company focuses the bulk of its efforts, and that's a bit like trying to make the best 2D TV in what is rapidly becoming a 3D world.

Ozzie challenges Microsoft to dream, but he doesn't want the company to dream big. Microsoft already owns big in the software industry. It needs to head toward small -- not an easy destination for a battleship of a company with a massively complex core product to reach but one it needs to set a course for nonetheless. The question now is whether anybody in Redmond is listening to the eloquently soft-spoken short-timer as he reveals his final prophecy for the company.

What's your take on Ray Ozzie's vision for Microsoft and computing? How is Microsoft set to take on the future of the industry? Send your thoughts to [email protected].  

Posted by Lee Pender on October 25, 2010


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