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The Virtual Enterprise

Dropping the pilot

Microsoft’s future is tied up with cloud computing. Steve Ballmer has said so - several times - but the man who has done most to get Microsoft won’t be there to guide them.

Ray Ozzie’s departure leaves a hole within Microsoft. Not only because he was the chief software architect (a role previously held by Bill Gates) but because he has was seriously respected outside of the techie community. He was also seen as the person, thanks to his Internet services disruption memo - who set the company on the path to cloud computing and, having cut his technical chops on Lotus Notes, had some pedigree in the software world.

He wasn’t seen as a Microsoft careerist and political operator - although, of course, that could be the very reason for his departure. He didn't have the powerbase of long-serving Microsoft stalwarts.

The Microsoft press release announcing his departure is brief and to the point, with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer thanking Ozzie for his work, his vision and announcing his banishment to another world. The words sound generous “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.” I can't help thinking that this makes entertainment sound like one of those menial dead-end jobs that out-of-favour East European could find themselves in when they’d incurred the wrath of the politburo.

Even the language is strange, with the word “transition” used to describe his move to another division (Transition sounds like the sort of word Victorian spiritualists would use to describe a person’s move to an afterlife, maybe it’s not such a far-fetched usage after all. But there’s something very strange about this. If Microsoft does want to push into the cloud - does it make sense to ditch the guy who’s done most to make cloud happen?

;Microsoft, of course, is caught in a terrible fix. It anxiously wants to protect its big cash cows: Windows and Office but, at the same time, wants to ensure that it has a place in the new world of cloud-delivered software.

One thing it does mean is that another part of Bill Gates’ legacy has left - Ozzie was Gates’ pick. That might be great for the Microsoft hierarchy that remains but without the pilot to steer the company towards the cloud future, the flight might be just a bit bumpier.

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Tags: cloud computing, microsoft, ray ozzie

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