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Waiting on Ozzie

Conventional wisdom says you never want to follow a legend. For every Steve Young following Joe Montana, there are countless examples of people who struggled in the shadow of their famed predecessors. Think John Sculley at Apple, or the parade of interim execs who followed Philippe Kahn at Borland.

So pity Ray Ozzie, who two years ago was named Chief Software Architect of Microsoft. The facile intellect behind Groove Networks seemed just the man to shepherd Microsoft forward in the era of open source software and Internet-borne services. And yet, here we are, waiting still for Ozzie to strike his course.

Oh, we're told that moment is coming, but we've heard this before. We were told to wait until MIX 07 for Ozzie to make a splash, then told to wait for MIX 08. Now Microsoft points us to the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in October. At some point, Ozzie is going to have to assume leadership of Microsoft's technology vision, or cede it to someone who will.

Maybe Microsoft believes that the recent Live Mesh announcement is the first step toward Ozzie's emergence, but I'm not so sure. The service is awfully raw and today addresses just a fraction of the broad vision that it must fulfill. What's more, a number of industry watchers, such as Mary Jo Foley and Dmitry Sotnikov, opine that Live Mesh is essentially another cut on the Groove product.

Other takes are more cynical. In his blog, Joel Spolsky complains that Live Mesh is "Groove, rewritten from scratch, one more time. Ray Ozzie just can't stop rewriting this damn app, again and again and again, and taking 5-7 years each time."

And so the question begs. Two years after ascending to the very pinnacle of the software development industry, is it time to ask if Ray Ozzie might, in fact, be a software visionary without a vision? Or should we show a little patience and wait for PDC? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/15/2008

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