In a surprise move, Microsoft announced today that Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie is leaving the company.
The move, which raises questions about the company's future technology direction, was announced in an e-mail to employees from CEO Steve Ballmer. Ozzie is leaving after an unspecified transition period, expected to be several months.
"With our progress in services and the cloud now full speed ahead in all aspects of our business, Ray and I are announcing today Ray's intention to step down from his role as chief software architect," Ballmer said in the memo, which was posted to Microsoft's Web site. "He will remain with the company as he transitions the teams and ongoing strategic projects within his organization--bringing the great innovations and great innovators he's assembled into the groups driving our business. Following the natural transition time with his teams but before he retires from Microsoft, Ray will be focusing his efforts in the broader area of entertainment where Microsoft has many ongoing investments."
Ozzie's departure is just the latest in a string of high-level exits from Microsoft. Business Division President Stephen Elop left Microsoft last month to become CEO of Nokia, while Entertainment and Devices unit president Robbie Bach announced in the spring his plans to leave. (Bach has not left Microsoft's employ as yet, but is expected to leave later this fall.)
Ozzie joined Microsoft when the company bought Ozzie's Groove Networks back in April 2005. Initially, he was one of three chief technical officers and was named to his current role in 2006, at the same time the company announced Bill Gates plan to retire.
Microsoft said it has no plans to fill the chief software architect role.
Ozzie was already a computing industry legend by the time he joined Microsoft, having worked on several early PC programs before creating Lotus Notes. Ozzie ventured out on his own after IBM acquired Lotus, creating Groove, a collaborative document creation engine.
"Ray contributed significantly to the early success of Windows," Ballmer noted in his memo to Microsoft employees. "Since being at Microsoft, both through inspiration and impact he's been instrumental in our transition toward a software world now centered on services."
Microsoft's acquisition of Groove was widely seen as the cost of bringing in Ozzie.
During his time at Microsoft, Ozzie is best known for his Internet Services Disruption memo five years ago, which outlined the need for all of the company's businesses to move to the cloud. Since then, Microsoft has launched plans for Windows Live, Windows Azure, and Office Web Apps, among other cloud efforts.
However, Ozzie's tenure has also been marked by clashes with various product teams over both resources and technical direction.
As Ballmer noted, one of Ozzie's final projects will focus on the company's entertainment strategy. Microsoft has been trying to flesh out its notion of a "personal cloud," which is in many ways the consumer parallel to the business cloud strategy that the company has laid out.
One of Ozzie's pet projects at Microsoft was Live Mesh, a technology incubation that aimed to offer people the ability to have their content automatically synchronized with the Web and their other devices. Parts of Live Mesh are now part of Windows Live, although more work is needed to fulfill the broader vision, including securing broader rights from Hollywood to allow users to take purchased content, such as movies and TV shows, to whichever device they are on.
Microsoft declined to make Ozzie available for an interview, nor did it have any comment on his plans once he leaves the company. Ballmer left the door open to continuing further work with Ozzie.
"He's always been a 'maker' and a partner, and we look forward to our continuing collaboration as his future unfolds," he said.
Updated, 2:20 p.m. PDT with details throughout.