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Questions Remain About Ray Ozzie at Microsoft

There's no way we're getting into this entry without setting the mood with a little classic Janet Jackson asking the question some observers have asked of Ray Ozzie recently: "What have you done for me lately?" (Ooh-ooh-ooh yeah. Oh, yeah. It's in your head now.)

Maybe the better question is, "What has Ray Ozzie done for Microsoft lately?" While we admit that we jumped the gun on what we thought was Ozzie's exit from the critical Microsoft Azure cloud computing project, we're not the only ones wondering about Ozzie's role in Redmond.

In particular, the clever folks at a site called xconomy, who clearly monitor RCPU closely (as everybody should), wrote this week about Ozzie having possibly lost some internal power struggles in Redmond to Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky. We don't know anything about that situation and won't speculate on it. We're just throwing that could-be news nugget out there second-hand. Take it as you wish, or don't take it at all. We don't care.

And we're not here to pick on Ray Ozzie, either. Far from it. Although RCPU hasn't talked to him personally, everybody we know has good things to say about him. And we're not just talking about Microsoft people here, either. Partners, customers, analysts...even journalists and bloggers(!) speak well of him. We've can't remember ever hearing a negative word about Ozzie. So, we trust that he's a good guy and a capable executive.

But xconomy goes ahead and asks the question we kind of danced around in our first entry on Ozzie last week, which is, basically, what is Ray Ozzie doing at Microsoft, exactly? His Live Mesh project is still a bit amorphous and seems to have just folded into Azure somehow. And while Microsoft assures us that Ozzie is as active as he's ever been on Azure and that his role on the project hasn't changed, he's not actually in charge of the project anymore.

Again, the move of Azure from Ozzie's purview to Bob Muglia's control is probably a totally sensible, business-focused, classic Redmond reorg. But even a reasonable explanation of the shift doesn't help answer some of the key questions about the man who was supposed to be, from a technical perspective, the next Bill Gates.

What has Ozzie accomplished at Microsoft since he arrived there in 2005? What will his legacy be -- will it be Azure? Is that still his baby or not? (Yes, we know that his role hasn't changed. But we're not 100 percent sure what that role is -- and it's doubtful that anybody outside of Redmond really knows.) Or was Azure ever "his" project, really? Whatever happened to Live Mesh? And is a great technical mind falling victim -- as leaky, unidentified sources quoted in random blog entries are beginning to suggest -- to political gamesmanship within the walls of Microsoft's campus?

Nobody seems to know the answers to any of those questions. And they're important. We're talking about one of the top figures at the mothership for Microsoft partners here. We're talking about a visionary hand-picked by Gates himself. We're talking about the leadership of Microsoft's super-important cloud and "hybrid" cloud initiatives. We're talking, potentially, about the very future of Microsoft, which, like a lot of technology companies, has mostly been a personality-driven, top-down organization over the years. Is Ozzie the person who will lead Microsoft innovation into the future? Is he doing it now? See, more questions...there are only more questions.

In the summer of 2009, Mary Jo Foley wrote a column for Redmond magazine suggesting that Microsoft was splitting into two camps: Friends of Bill (Gates) and Friends of Steve (Ballmer). She also mentioned that some folks in Redmond are wondering exactly what Ozzie is up to there. To be fair (as Mary Jo would surely note), he has since become a more public figure, particularly around Azure. But, then, even if his role hasn't changed, Azure's not officially "his" anymore. So, where does all of this leave Ray Ozzie? And what has he done for Microsoft lately? Right now, we have more questions than answers. Maybe Janet Jackson can help us. Nobody else seems to be able to.

What's your take on Ray Ozzie's role at Microsoft? Do you have any inside info to pass along? Send your thoughts and tips to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on 12/16/2009 at 1:22 PM


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