June 15, 2006 6:12 PM PDT

Is Ray Ozzie up to the task?

Ray Ozzie has rapidly gone from outsider to the man behind Microsoft's online services strategy. Now, as Microsoft's new chief software architect, he's making a giant leap into the role of technical visionary.

Industry watchers say he's up to the challenge. "Ozzie is tremendously respected within the industry and within Microsoft, and he has the respect of Bill (Gates)," said David Smith, an analyst at Gartner. "The open question is 'Is Ozzie up to the task?' I can't think of anybody else that is better suited."

Special coverage: The end of the Gates era

Bill Gates had wanted to hire Ozzie, credited with the invention of Lotus Notes, for years. He succeeded last year, when Microsoft acquired Ozzie's Groove Networks. On Thursday, the white-haired 50-year-old assumed Gates' role of chief software architect, giving him the massive responsibility for technical architecture and product oversight at Microsoft.

The move was somewhat foreshadowed last year, when Ozzie wrote a memo to Microsoft's senior leadership. Titled "The Internet Services Disruption," this type of strategic missive traditionally would have come from Gates, who instead penned a note that some have referred to as a cover letter for Ozzie's memo.

Just this week, Ozzie kicked off Microsoft's TechEd conference in Boston with a far-ranging speech on the future of technology that was reminicent of talks delivered by Gates in years past.

News.com Poll

Bill Gates has set a timetable to end his day-to-day work at Microsoft. Do you agree with his plans?

Too soon. There's no one else who can fill his shoes.
Not soon enough. He should have left years ago.
Just about right. The company's in capable hands with Ballmer, Ozzie and crew.



View results

Ozzie is well regarded as a visionary and engineer. He started Iris Associates in 1984 to make Notes, the collaboration software still used by millions around the world. Iris was sold to Lotus, which was later acquired by IBM. Big Blue considered Ozzie and his team to be key to the acquisition. During the negotiations between Big Blue and Lotus, which began as a hostile takeover, CEO Lou Gerstner hopped aboard IBM's jet and paid a special visit to the Iris headquarters to present his case. It worked and Ozzie stayed around for the transition.

In 1997, Ozzie founded Groove, which made desktop software for collaboration and communication among small groups, and closely aligned his work with that of Microsoft, a Groove investor.

Prior to founding Iris, Ozzie worked on the development of Lotus Symphony and Software Arts' TK!Solver and VisiCalc, and did early distributed operating systems development at Data General. Ozzie earned a bachelor's degree in computer science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, near his native Chicago.

Gates and Ozzie together announced that Microsoft was entering the "live era" of software last November at an event in San Francisco. The company announced "Windows Live" and "Office Live," both seen as opportunities to gain revenue through online advertising and, perhaps more importantly, to compete with archrival Google.

Ray Ozzie Ray Ozzie

"That is a very important phase of Microsoft's future business," said Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC. "If Microsoft does not go down that route aggressively they are going to put their future business at risk."

Ozzie is instrumental in crafting Microsoft's strategy to tackle online services, software that will not only run just on the PC, but make use of the Net. Just after joining, Ozzie in June last year led a meeting of Microsoft's top 15 executives on how the company could conquer the Web. Gates wasn't even there, according to a recent Fortune story.

"He's already demonstrated the ability to lead when comes to Microsoft Live initiatives," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research. "He's got a 20-plus-year track record of doing really amazing things."

Gates said on Thursday that he will work side-by-side with Ozzie throughout the transition period, but that a year from now, Ozzie and Craig Mundie, now chief research and strategy officer, will report directly to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Ballmer and Gates had begun to have some succession discussions prior to Microsoft's acquisition of Groove, Ballmer said Thursday. "We expected a lot (from Ozzie) and things have worked out even better," he said.

In an interview, Ozzie said that during a spring retreat it became clear that some succession issues were being planned and that he was in for an increased role, though specifics were not discussed at that point.

In 1994, Gates honored Ozzie as one of seven "Windows Pioneers." He was also inducted into the Computer Museum Industry Hall of Fame. Ozzie is married and has two children, Neil and Jill. He lives near Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus, but still has a house in Massachusetts, Groove's home base.

CNET News.com's Elinor Mills, Ina Fried and Mike Ricciuti contributed to this report.

See more CNET content tagged:
Ray Ozzie, Bill Gates, Groove Networks Inc., Lotus, chief software architect

11 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
"Prior to founding Iris,...
... Ozzie worked on the development of Lotus Symphony and Software Arts' TK!Solver and VisiCalc, and did early distributed operating systems development at Data General..." as this article states; and, presumptuously ask in its subject line - "Is Ray Ozzie up to the task?", the answer is - if Ozzie was able to lay the foundation for "Symphony" and "VisiCalc" (now Lotus 1-2-3 I believe) why would he not now (with all the years of experience that has followed since) "be up to the task?" Developments at the Microsoft Corporation under can only be Lotus "Notes" and "Symphony" "SQUARED" from a mathematical as well as from an economical standpoint!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
great, just what Microsoft needs, another geek
Does it ever occur to anyone in the software industry that it may not be best to guide a company's offerings by putting in charge the biggest geek in the room?

I mean, how many ordinary consumers have ever used Ozzie's products? Isn't his a career a testament to his attraction to the most complicated, nerdiest technologies around?

Little hint: the coolest, most innovative consumer ideas seem to get recognized and sponsored by NON-geeks. Case in point, Steve Jobs.

Really, does Microsoft need another idiot savant in charge? How much Asberger's does one company need?
Posted by frankly0 (28 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Example please
Please, what has Steve Jobs personally innovated aside from bad fashion? In your reply, don't mention anything that Apple were not first to do.
Posted by Andrew J Glina (1673 comments )
Link Flag
Example please
Please, what has Steve Jobs personally innovated aside from bad fashion? In your reply, don't mention anything that Apple were not first to do.
Posted by Andrew J Glina (1673 comments )
Link Flag
Geez!...
... "I mean, how many ordinary consumers have ever used Ozzie's products? Isn't his a career a testament to his attraction to the most complicated, nerdiest technologies around?"; what have you been drinking and what are you up to since "Harmony" is on its way...

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www-306.ibm.com/software/swnews/swnews.nsf/n/jmme6q5jgb?OpenDocument&#38;Site=lotus" target="_newWindow">http://www-306.ibm.com/software/swnews/swnews.nsf/n/jmme6q5jgb?OpenDocument&#38;Site=lotus</a>

where do you think it came from! It takes a software "geek" like OSSIE to brings useful software "tools" to the marketplace. What have you you show that you have done for the world... Sheeeesh! Hush Up!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Geek is as geek does...
"What have you you show that you have done for the world"

Well, if I was the head of a company that derives a very good deal of its money from consumer software, what I'd like to see is someone who has EVER done something innovative for CONSUMERS.

Yeah, if you strap someone to a chair in a company and tell him his job depends on learning Lotus Notes maybe after a long painful learning process he'll figure out what to do. But what CONSUMER is going to go through that ordeal?

What the hell does Ray Ozzie know or care about consumers? What has the man ever contributed to authentic ease of use?

Again, it's nothing but the biggest geek in the room getting the job because he inspires the other geeks to do geeky things.
Posted by frankly0 (28 comments )
Link Flag
little thought experiment...
Imagine, if you will, that Ray Ozzie introduces a REALL COOL new consumer technology, like the iPod.

Can't really imagine it without some serious brain strain?

That's the point.
Posted by frankly0 (28 comments )
Link Flag
Yes Way, Ray
Most of us enjoy watching MS chase the dragoogn. The pressure is on the creator of Groove, as lots of new apps are challenging that type of collaboration computing. Great stuff, but protocol is old and it won't make it to Windows; a deep blow to the Virtual Desktop potential Ozzie was poised to capture inside of Windows. Ouch!
Skype (Verosee) and Google (Writely) are lining up these kinds of sharing tools that extend themselves deeper into the desktop, productivity space -- great timing.
But now there are so many other gators to wrestle, I am sure orderlieness and innovation can live side by side.
Posted by jasiano (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"But now there are so many other gators...
... to wrestle, I am sure orderlieness and innovation can live side by side.". earlier on in your post you said, "Skype (Verosee) and Google (Writely) are lining up these kinds of sharing tools that extend themselves deeper into the desktop, productivity space -- great timing."; however you put it, sometimes in the thick "jungle" of things we sometimes fail to see the even larger, mightier and ferocious "BLACK CAIMANS" lurking in the arena to Google the Googles as we know them today! Watch out for that "VisiCalc (Black Caiman-like foundation) SPLASH" that will inform the judgement with regards to the order of things to come!
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.