Barney's Rubble

Ray Goes Away: A Look Back

After five years of heading Microsoft development, Ray Ozzie is leaving the software company. Ozzie crossed my mind a few hours before I heard the news. I was working on this issue of Redmond, which comprises a bunch of lists. We did a similar lists issue in 2007 and one of the categories was Most Influential Microsoft Exec. Ozzie, two years into his stint, won hands down.

This time around I wasn't so sure, and already pegged Steve Ballmer as having the most influence.

I got a hint about it on April 18, 2007, when I was in Redmond. I asked Ballmer how hiring Ozzie changed the culture, values and personality of Microsoft. Ballmer stressed that many at Microsoft wield influence, hinting (at least in my estimation) that Ozzie did not have the shift-changing personality of, say, a Bill Gates. I got the sense that while Ozzie was cool in Ballmer's mind, he may not have been the end-all be-all exec.

I guess that's why I'm not utterly surprised at Ozzie's departure -- nor do I think it spells any kind of doom for Microsoft.

Don't get me wrong. Ozzie's a brilliant guy. I first learned about him by reading the famous but now out-of-print book, "Programmers at Work" (Tempus Books, 1989), which profiles 19 seminal programmers. Ozzie made the list for having written Lotus Symphony.

As a reporter covering Lotus and Microsoft in the '80s and '90s, I knew that when Gates came to Boston, he often tried to hook up with Ozzie, whom he greatly admired. For that alone, I consider Ozzie a genius.

Some critics pooh pooh Ozzie's contributions to Microsoft over the last decade, especially considering the huge resurgence of Apple, the savage dominance of Google and blunders such as Windows Vista. Hey, Ozzie isn't Superman, and Microsoft is a huge concern with countless products and projects. What Ozzie focused on he did quite well, and Windows Azure is testament to that.

I've been meeting a lot of cloud and virtualization vendors lately and to a man they praise the sophistication of Windows Azure. Windows Azure isn't Microsoft's only cloud play. We're now seeing the emergence of truly cloud-worthy Microsoft Office apps, and in the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) a nice set of hosted communication and collaboration tools.

Longtime Microsoft reporter Barb Darrow was perhaps the most prescient Ozzie observer. When Redmond bought Groove and hired him five years ago, she told me Ozzie would replace Gates as chief software architect. She also said Ozzie wouldn't last very long. And for a big-time Redmond exec, five years is a short timer. Darrow was correct on both counts.

Will you miss Ozzie? What should he do next? And how will Microsoft fare without him? Answers to any and all of these questions are welcome at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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