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Ray Ozzie and Microsoft: Job Done

Before you start reading this entry, click on this link and read Scott Bekker's take on Ray Ozzie's "retirement." Seriously, just do it. Go back right now and click it. Your editor won't be offended. Bekker nailed this thing, and you're better off reading his blog post than you are reading what follows here.

OK, with that out of the way (seriously, go back and click now), let's talk about why Microsoft and Ray Ozzie were very good for each other and why Ozzie's tenure in Redmond ended exactly as it should have. Oh, we know. Nobody else feels this way. News of Ozzie's "retirement" this week has sent the pundisphere (let's try to make that catch on...) into a tizzy, with most commentators taking Steve Ballmer and Microsoft to task for losing a visionary and questioning the future of the company (again).

OK, so maybe the timing of Ozzie's departure isn't perfect, with Microsoft getting rolling in the cloud with Azure and other services. And maybe Ozzie didn't turn out to be the next Bill Gates as some in the pundisphere expected he would. But waiting for the "next" anybody is usually an exercise in futility. Only Gates is Gates, and Ozzie never had the edgy business sense or the thirst for power that made Gates such a financial success.

And as for the cloud, Ozzie was -- quietly -- the visionary behind Azure, as well as the construction of a bunch of huge data centers, which have already made Microsoft a major player in the cloud. Before Ozzie arrived in Redmond, Microsoft was looking positively Luddite, floating by on the (admittedly swanky) life rafts of Windows and Office as the rest of the industry prepared for the rapid evolution of online services.

In half a decade, Ozzie revved Microsoft up from zero to competitive in the cloud, and he leaves a technological legacy that will serve Microsoft well for years to come. He wasn't a particularly good speaker; he didn't have Gates' drive or Ballmer's chutzpa, and he was never the right guy to be the next face of Microsoft. But years from now, when Microsoft is a major player in the ever-expanding cloud, Ozzie's fingerprints will still be all over Microsoft's success. Ray Ozzie did what he needed to do in Redmond, and Microsoft got what it needed from Ray Ozzie.

So, how about Microsoft, which seems to be leaking top executives? There might be a legitimate brain-drain problem there, but Ozzie's departure isn't symptomatic of it. Really, Ozzie and Microsoft were essentially finished with each other, both having been better for their relationship. It's up to Microsoft to carry out Ozzie's vision now, but carrying out a vision is easier than having it in the first place. As for Ozzie, his future is wide open. He'll be able to do whatever he likes -- even "retire," if that's what he wants to do (although we doubt that, obviously).

Breakups are rarely easy, and very few relationships actually end well. But the relationship between Ray Ozzie and Microsoft finished about as positively as it could have. Really. For both parties, with a little determination, everything else from here can be blue skies.

What's your take on Ray Ozzie's tenure at Microsoft? Send your thoughts to lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 10/20/2010 at 1:23 PM


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