Is Ray Ozzie going down fighting?

Last week Steve Ballmer announced that Ray Ozzie would be stepping down from his position as Chief Software Architect at Microsoft, and today , Ozzie published a memo he wrote to “Executive Staff and direct reports”, entitled “The Dawn of a New Day”.  Like “The Internet Services Disruption“ before it, Ozzie’s latest memo is a dense piece of writing, at times difficult to comprehend.  Without any context, it’s hard to follow what Ozzie is talking about, or even if he has a point at all.

But there have been rumblings for most of Ozzie’s five year tenure that he was not well liked by certain factions holding power at Microsoft, that he and Steve Ballmer didn’t see eye to eye, and that there has been apparently quite a power play going on between Ozzie and Steven Sinofsky (why is it, by the way, that the most common words associated with Sinofsky seem to be “power play”?).  Ray Ozzie had quite a vision for the future of computing, which he outlined in the Disruption memo, some five years ago.  His memo outlined key tenets and a set of opportunities for delivering seamless, services based computing, cutting through the complexity of the technology of 2006 (and today):

But the power of technology also brings with it a cost.  For all the success of individual technologies, the array of technology in a person’s life can be daunting.  Increasingly, individuals choose products and services that are highly-personalized, focused on the end-to-end experience delivered by that technology.  Products must deliver a seamless experience, one in which all the technology in your life ‘just works’ and can work together, on your behalf, under your control.  This means designs centered on an intentional fusion of internet-based services with software, and sometimes even hardware, to deliver meaningful experiences and solutions with a level of seamless design and use that couldn’t be achieved without such a holistic approach.

But there’s another side of the coin at Microsoft, a side that embraces the very complexity that Ozzie fought hard against.  Complexity pays the bills at Microsoft, as ever more complex tools are needed to build ever more complex solutions based on ever more complex versions of Windows and Office. 

Windows Live itself has been rebuilt into a full on infomercial for Office, with “The Ribbon” plastered on every Essentials product like a banner ad, and Office Web Apps and Office 365 offering up perhaps a simple Services interface, but as thinly veiled front ends to a purposely more complex Office.  Microsoft, at least the anti-Ray Ozzie Microsoft, doesn’t want you living in the cloud, it wants you living in Microsoft’s cloud, using Windows and Office, and for a long, long time.

Perhaps the most glaring example (and this is of course, pure speculation) of where Ozzie fought and lost is in Windows Live’s implementation of Live Mesh, the simple synchronization system that fully embraces Ozzie’s Dawn of a New Day philosophy, or at least it did until Microsoft pulled in the reins.  Much of the promise of Live Mesh is gone in the new version; no “desktop in the cloud”, a crippled PC to cloud sync story, a mess made of sync to mobile and sync between SkyDrive itself (in its ever more complex labyrinth of Office Web Apps SkyDrive that doesn’t talk to SkyDrive that doesn’t talk to the paltry 5gb of Windows Live Mesh SkyDrive).  This isn’t the Horizon that Ozzie envisioned, or worked hard to implement.

It’s clear that Ray Ozzie lost a fight, one of moving to a new, post PC/post Windows/post Office world vs. the “Office and Windows at all costs” faction that won.  What’s fun is that in his own complex way, he’s firing off a few parting shots on his newly created (open source WordPress) blog, where he’s hosting not only Dawn of the New Day, but The Internet Services Disruption as well, and proudly so.  Microsoft is betting big that Windows and Office will win out, Ray Ozzie didn’t agree, and lost.  To be honest we’re not sure who will win out in the end, but we’re sure going to keep an eye on Ozzie’s blog.