Last night I attended the Crunchies award ceremony, where Facebook took top honors as the best overall start-up (See the full list of Crunchies award winners). The awards are based on a popularity contest via votes cast through the Crunchies Web site and with input from the Crunchies Committee, consisting of co-hosts GigaOm, Silicon Alley Insider, TechCrunch, VentureBeat and advisors.
The most surprising winner for the evening was in the Microsoft's Live Mesh, which won in the category best technology innovation/achievement. The competition included Facebook Connect (the runner-up), Google Friend Connect, Google Chrome, Swype and Yahoo BOSS.
Given that Microsoft is often vilified by the Web 2.0, start-up community, and the stellar competition in the category, it's hard to imagine that Microsoft won without a little help from the Crunchies Committee. On the other hand, the Microsoft community is large and mighty and perceptions are slowing shifting to be more positive about the openness of the giant software company. In any case, it's a deserved award, which was accepted by Ray Ozzie, the chief software architect at Microsoft, and David Treadwell, who runs the Live Services Platform.
Live Mesh is essential glue for synchronizing files with all the devices a user might touch, and as a kind of information bus for identity, notifications, and other Web services. Microsoft, with its huge footprint, is uniquely positioned to provide a universal, operating system- and device-agnostic syncing foundation.
Ozzie and his team are working on a complete transformation of the back end and the front end, moving from PC-centric to multi-screen, he told me during a brief conversation at the Crunchies. Microsoft's Azure cloud service is another key part of the transformation, but is lagging behind Live Mesh. "2009 is still a learning year for Azure, just as 2008 was the Mesh," Ozzie said.
The challenge for Azure is moving the massive scale Microsoft platforms like XBox Live, to the Azure cloud-services architecture. "In 2009 Azure will be more mature, you'll see some large-scale usage," Ozzie said. But it won't be until 2010 that Azure is ready for prime time.
Ozzie is mindful of the profound changes culturally and technologically among its developers that Microsoft must undergo to realize the Live Platform and Azure cloud services vision. "When we are in an environment with technological and environmental change, you have to focus on these new huge constraints, but also new opportunities for destruction or rebirth," he said during a Crunchies interview with Om Malik.
For a photo replay of the Crunchies, check out Andrew Mager's post.