Ozzie: 'Live' Not Risky for Microsoft
While industry observers have viewed Microsoft's Windows and Office Live initiative as risky business, newly installed Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie on Thursday said it is much closer to a natural evolution given the company's capabilities and heritage as a software platforms company.
"Some may view what we're doing here as a big, bold bet, but it's a very natural bet for us as a platform company," said Ozzie, who assumed the chief software architect title after chairman Bill Gates split his technical responsibilities between two deputies last month.
In one of the highlights of the meeting, Gates' designated replacement as company visionary -- Lotus Notes inventor Ray Ozzie -- presented his view of the emerging services marketplace.
“I strongly believe that Internet services will play a very important role for Microsoft moving forward,” Ozzie told the audience of analysts and press gathered in Redmond for the company's annual financial analysts meeting.
Ozzie reiterated his belief that the future for much of Microsoft's products lies in “a fundamental transformation towards services and services-enabled software” – which includes both Microsoft's software as a service (SaaS) plans such as Windows Live as well as its plans to integrate its client-side applications with some of those Windows Live offerings.
This will be driven by what Ozzie referred to as the “cheap revolution,” the fact that computing technologies continue to get smaller and less expensive. That includes faster and cheaper wired and wireless bandwidth.
“Our model...is to use our Windows Live services platform as an experience hub, and to use the PC, the browser and mobile devices as different experience-delivery mechanisms for the value we aspire to deliver,” Ozzie said. “We bring together Office and Office Live using Windows Live as the experience hub.” As an example, he cited Office OneNote Mobile -- a mobile note-taking companion that works hand in hand with a PC-based OneNote.
Ozzie said the power of massive centralized data centers has been discussed for as long as he has been part of the industry, stretching back to the late 1970s. But these early visions all presumed that the communications channel would be very narrow between an end user and the centralized service.
"It seemed very natural that the limited desktop terminal model, like that of a browser, would be required if centralized services were to broadly succeed,” Ozzie told the audience,” he said. “But today our world has evolved into one with amazingly powerful 'edge' devices, amazingly powerful centralized services, and high-bandwidth pipes connecting the two. For the first time consider how to intentionally balance where to put the application and data, and how rich to make the user experience," Ozzie said.
Ozzie said that some applications or data are best kept on the centralized service thereby projecting their user experience through a browser or through software that's temporarily downloaded onto a client. Other applications or data are best kept on a PC or mobile device, projecting subsets of that data to other users by temporarily uploading it onto a centralized service as a cache.
"That architectural choice is now ours, and I can't sufficiently emphasize the importance and significance of this architectural choice that we now have," Ozzie said.
Ozzie said there are three fundamental underpinnings to Microsoft's approach. First is to continuously increase the number and quality of our service-connected offerings from desktop to Web, to naturally and organically attract users and increase usage. Second is to continuously increase our ability to optimize our offerings using the aggregated data the company's platform infrastructure produces, and doing so while being industry leaders in how Microsoft approaches and deliver end-user privacy, he said.
"And the third key factor is to significantly increase the seamlessness of the experiences that users enjoy using our offerings across multiple PCs and other devices. It's a specific objective to make owning a second PC, third PC, or phone or media player by far easier to set up and use than the first. They'll just work together in simple yet meaningful ways."
Ozzie predicted that years from now people will look back on this time, which he referred to as the 'era of services transformation,' and see it as the period where software, servers and services became enmeshed and intertwined.
“When you do look back on this era, I'm confident that you'll see that Microsoft was taking a leadership role in advancing the industry into this new era,” Ozzie said.
Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine. Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.