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, 20100 comments

Sony Stops the Walkman in Its Tracks

Yes, we're talking about the portable cassette player here. Sony was still selling them in Japan(!) but will finally cease production more than 30 years after the famed device's debut. The Zune of its day...haha, just kidding...the iPod of its day, the Walkman will go down as one of the great relics of the 1980s and the device that ultimately killed the boombox (held on the shoulder, naturally) and ushered in the era of tuning everybody else out in favor of, well, some tunes. Vaya con Dios...

Posted by Lee Pender on October 25, 20101 comments

Benioff Prods Microsoft over Ozzie Departure

Where might Ray Ozzie turn up next? Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff sure did have some sweet things to say about him this week. Of course, Benioff, likely still stinging from losing a patent battle with Microsoft, also poked a little fun at his larger rival, suggesting that Ozzie's resignation "happened much faster than a Microsoft upgrade." OK, that's a little funny.

Posted by Lee Pender on October 21, 20100 comments

A Lack of Traction with Microsoft Online Services?

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Scott Bekker:

It's always interesting to scan through the comments at the infamously anonymous employee blog Mini-Microsoft when there's a major executive shakeup in Redmond, like Ray Ozzie's pending departure. Reaction to the Ozzie news is mixed over there. But more specifically, there's an anonymous post from a commenter claiming to be on the corporate sales force that's relevant to partners and the Microsoft Online Services effort. You can never tell, but there's enough detail in the post to make it seem credible. Money quote:

"The company's commercial Online Services offering has nowhere near the traction that the executives and others would like everyone to believe. In FY09 and FY10, the sales force gave away BPOS, so we could hit one of [Microsoft COO Kevin Turner's] scorecard metrics. Customers took it because it did not cost them anything. In the last two years, the vast majority of these customers have not put it in production either. Now we are trying to figure out how to get our partners to help get it deployed."

Posted by Lee Pender on October 21, 20101 comments

Spread the News: Microsoft Office 365 Wins New York City

No Ray Ozzie? No problem! Actually, Ray Ozzie deserves a lot of credit for the contract Microsoft trumpeted this week: a deal with the City of New York that features online services and will include Office 365.

Take that, Google! The search giant beat Microsoft to win the battle of Los Angeles, signing the California city to a Google Apps deal late last year. Never to be outdone, though, Microsoft has snagged the big municipal prize, New York City. If anybody doubted it, Microsoft is relevant in the cloud now.

So, which Microsoft partner cleaned up in this New York deal? Uh, actually... Apparently, this was a direct-sales deal, and one that "unbundles" Microsoft's applications and services at that.

Well, now. Hopefully the direct-sales element isn't setting a precedent here. It might very well be, though, especially on the Web-services side. Microsoft has not hidden its plans to sell online services directly to customers. Now, we're seeing that plan in action.

How does it look, partners? Sure, maybe there will be some room for partners to provide services or add-ons here -- or maybe not. The details aren't clear; the contract isn't even final yet. But the news to start spreading on this New York deal seems to be both good and bad. It's great that Microsoft is winning high-profile cloud contracts; it's not so great to see that partners aren't necessarily part of them.

What's your take on Microsoft's New York City deal? Send your thoughts to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on October 21, 20100 comments

PC Sales Show Modest Growth

Hey, the PC market is somewhat less bad than it used to be! This has to be good news, right? That full economic recovery must be right around the corner...right?

Posted by Lee Pender on October 20, 20100 comments

Microsoft Launches Office 365 Beta, Dumps BPOS Name

Finally, an honest-to-goodness, basically full-featured, legitimate online version of Microsoft Office is in beta. It's competitively priced and aimed squarely at the right market -- small and tiny businesses. And, fortunately, Microsoft decided to drop one of the worst and most hilarious product names of all time -- BPOS -- and give the service a decent moniker, Office 365. Although we are worried that Xbox 360 might get jealous at some point...

Posted by Lee Pender on October 20, 20100 comments

Ray Ozzie and Microsoft: Job Done

Before you start reading this entry, click on this link and read Scott Bekker's take on Ray Ozzie's "retirement." Seriously, just do it. Go back right now and click it. Your editor won't be offended. Bekker nailed this thing, and you're better off reading his blog post than you are reading what follows here.

OK, with that out of the way (seriously, go back and click now), let's talk about why Microsoft and Ray Ozzie were very good for each other and why Ozzie's tenure in Redmond ended exactly as it should have. Oh, we know. Nobody else feels this way. News of Ozzie's "retirement" this week has sent the pundisphere (let's try to make that catch on...) into a tizzy, with most commentators taking Steve Ballmer and Microsoft to task for losing a visionary and questioning the future of the company (again).

OK, so maybe the timing of Ozzie's departure isn't perfect, with Microsoft getting rolling in the cloud with Azure and other services. And maybe Ozzie didn't turn out to be the next Bill Gates as some in the pundisphere expected he would. But waiting for the "next" anybody is usually an exercise in futility. Only Gates is Gates, and Ozzie never had the edgy business sense or the thirst for power that made Gates such a financial success.

And as for the cloud, Ozzie was -- quietly -- the visionary behind Azure, as well as the construction of a bunch of huge data centers, which have already made Microsoft a major player in the cloud. Before Ozzie arrived in Redmond, Microsoft was looking positively Luddite, floating by on the (admittedly swanky) life rafts of Windows and Office as the rest of the industry prepared for the rapid evolution of online services.

In half a decade, Ozzie revved Microsoft up from zero to competitive in the cloud, and he leaves a technological legacy that will serve Microsoft well for years to come. He wasn't a particularly good speaker; he didn't have Gates' drive or Ballmer's chutzpa, and he was never the right guy to be the next face of Microsoft. But years from now, when Microsoft is a major player in the ever-expanding cloud, Ozzie's fingerprints will still be all over Microsoft's success. Ray Ozzie did what he needed to do in Redmond, and Microsoft got what it needed from Ray Ozzie.

So, how about Microsoft, which seems to be leaking top executives? There might be a legitimate brain-drain problem there, but Ozzie's departure isn't symptomatic of it. Really, Ozzie and Microsoft were essentially finished with each other, both having been better for their relationship. It's up to Microsoft to carry out Ozzie's vision now, but carrying out a vision is easier than having it in the first place. As for Ozzie, his future is wide open. He'll be able to do whatever he likes -- even "retire," if that's what he wants to do (although we doubt that, obviously).

Breakups are rarely easy, and very few relationships actually end well. But the relationship between Ray Ozzie and Microsoft finished about as positively as it could have. Really. For both parties, with a little determination, everything else from here can be blue skies.

What's your take on Ray Ozzie's tenure at Microsoft? Send your thoughts to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on October 20, 20100 comments

Adobe Trots Out Acrobat X

We've had the X-Men, the X Files, OS X, Generation X, even the movie Malcolm X...and now Adobe has given us Acrobat X. Oh, sure, we know that some of those X's are actually tens in Roman numerals, but we're trying to work with a theme here...

Posted by Lee Pender on October 18, 20100 comments

Microsoft Releases System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R3

It's a shame that Microsoft can't come up with a catchier name for this product because it's very popular and very useful. SCCM doesn't even really spell anything, and if it does, that's a word we'd rather not have to pronounce.

Posted by Lee Pender on October 18, 20102 comments

How Is Microsoft Spending a Billion Dollars?

If you had a billion dollars to spend, how would you spend it? Would you advertise your new mobile operating system and motion-controller game peripheral? No?

Well, that's how Microsoft is about to spend a cool bil. The combined advertising budgets of Windows Phone 7 and the Kinect game add-on (what is it with Microsoft and the word "kin," anyway?) will amount to one billion dollars.

Yeah, we know. That's chump change in Redmond. Still, we're about to be bombarded with messages about a mobile OS that's arguably behind its two biggest competitors feature-wise and a motion-control function that delivers more or less what the Wii introduced years ago. Just how successful these initiatives will be, of course, remains to be seen...but let's not forget that it took pretty much a decade for Microsoft's game-development efforts to actually turn a profit.

For partners, all of this stuff is peripheral at best, although some partners might be able to cash in on Windows Phone 7 somehow. The greater point here, and the one we keep making in this space, is that moves like this one in Redmond signal where Microsoft's priorities are and where they're going to be going forward.

There's no doubt that the Microsoft Partner Network is bringing sweeping changes in comparison to its predecessor, the Microsoft Partner Program. And we believe, based on feedback we've had, that the MPN will be much more about big, global partners than the more egalitarian MPP was.

So, mid-size and smaller partners, you could soon see a decrease in marketing funds, support and other investment flowing from Redmond. Maybe you're feeling the pinch already. Yet Microsoft -- and we get that we're talking about a huge, multi-faceted company here -- is letting $1 billion flow into one area (games) that has mostly been a money loser and another (mobile) that the company has shockingly mismanaged in recent years (and months, for that matter). Oh, and by the way, that $1 billion is just for advertising. Don't forget that.

Microsoft will have an enterprise presence for many years to come, as well it should. And a lot of partners will be able to continue to profit from that aspect of Microsoft's business. But if you're wondering where the company wants to head for the next few years to come, don't ask your Partner Account Manager (if you still have -- or ever had -- one). Follow the money, or just turn on the TV. You won't be able to miss what Microsoft is buying with its billion dollars.

How do you feel about Microsoft investing so heavily in advertising for games and Windows Phone 7? Have your say at [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on October 18, 20101 comments

A Look at Windows Phone 7

How will Microsoft's new mobile operating system fare in the market? And is it any good? RCP's Jeff Schwartz offers some excellent observations (but only tepid enthusiasm) on the matter following his live coverage of the Windows Phone 7 launch event.

Posted by Lee Pender on October 14, 20100 comments