Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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Ozzie Leaves Microsoft: Chief Software Adieu

I'm writing this post from Bulgaria, where the annual DevReach conference is taking place. A number of well-known American and Canadian speakers from the Microsoft-focused conference world are here with me. The combination of speakers who have known each other for a while and an unusual location for their gathering typically makes for camaraderie, and a lot of discussion. Before long, that discussion usually turns into an industry analysis bull session. And just two days ago, we had such a bull session, focusing on Ray Ozzie.

We all remarked that we hadn't heard much from Ozzie lately, and that he never really seemed to fit in at the company. In fact, we felt his aloofness may have been responsible, in part, for allowing the migration of Windows Live Spaces to WordPress.com. Bill Gates never would have let that happen, we reasoned. But his, successor, Ray Ozzie, apparently didn't care. We wondered what was keeping Ozzie at Microsoft. We wondered why he wanted to stay, and why Microsoft wanted him to stay. Regardless of the reason, we reckoned it wouldn't, and couldn't, last much longer.

It turns out Bulgaria is seven hours ahead of Eastern time. So when we returned home from a late dinner last night, we got back just in time to read the news of Ozzie's resignation from Microsoft.

Aside from feeling a bit smug at our clairvoyance, we've had remarkably little conversation about the news today. What we have discussed is that no one sees Ozzie's announcement (or, rather, Ballmer's announcement of Ozzie's decision) as bad news. While none of us is happy about the volume of high-profile departures at Microsoft of late, none of us is especially upset about this one.

Ozzie's vision for Microsoft, that it embrace services and make a big bet on the cloud, was good, as far as it went. But when the "We're All In" speech took place in March at the University of Washington, it was Steve Ballmer, not Ray Ozzie, who delivered the address. Ozzie sat in the front row, looking on as someone else articulated his own vision. Microsoft needs a technical visionary who aspires to more than working behind the scenes. Ozzie's stepping down may enable such a visionary to step up.

I would have thought such a visionary would assume the Chief Software Architect post, but Ballmer has stated explicitly that he will not be hiring anyone new into that title. I find this odd. Someone needs to step into the role of technical thought leader at Microsoft, and take full ownership of the role and its responsibilities. That role, clearly, will not be called Chief Software Architect.

But hopefully it will be called something. Because not heeding that call has created problems for Microsoft. And these are problems it can and should overcome.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 10/19/2010 at 1:15 PM


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