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What Happens to Microsoft’s Cloud Vision with Ozzie Gone



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October 20, 2010 4:10 pm

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Microsoft has always put on a good game face when it comes to the cloud. It introduced Azure 2 years ago to much fanfare, a platform for building cloud applications. Then it moved some Office functionality to the cloud.

With Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie pushing them along, Microsoft kept a cool cloud front, but earlier this week Microsoft announced that Ozzie was leaving, and it leaves open the very large question: What happens to Microsoft’s cloud initiative without him?

All through this year, Ballmer has insisted that Microsoft was all in where the cloud was concerned, but I never felt like he genuinely meant it. It’s hard for a company whose bread and butter is based on the desktop to make an about face and go after a business that for all intents and purposes renders its core business obsolete.

For Microsoft, Windows and Office have always been front and center. They are the big money makers in the company with huge profit margins. Ozzie represented a 180 degree switch from the desktop. He built a cloud platform and pushed for an online version of Office to compete with Google Docs.

Increasingly, consumers are living in the cloud and where consumers go employees soon follow. While I’m not suggesting that Microsoft’s desktop business is going anywhere any time soon–it’s far too entrenched for that–the general direction of the software business is in the cloud and on mobile devices, and try as it might, Microsoft seems to have trouble getting traction in either of these areas.

I have a theory it’s a bit like IBM back when it was launching the PC. The legend has it that there was a big debate internally about how nice to make the computer keyboard. Eventually the engineers lost out to internal politics, which wanted to protect IBM’s profitable typewriter division.

It’s hard to move forward when you’re living in the past, and all of Microsoft’s greatest glories happened in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since Bill Gates left, the company seems to be adrift, lacking in any real leadership or direction.

That Ozzie chose to leave just as the cloud initiative was beginning to take flight, suggests that maybe he wasn’t getting the internal backing that Ballmer’s public comments suggest. Maybe instead he was facing his own version of a typewriter turf war.

The fact is that Ozzie had the vision to take Microsoft in a new direction. If Microsoft had bought into his vision, he wouldn’t be leaving. If you take cold, clear look at Microsoft over the last several years, other than xBox, they haven’t had many consumer-side successes outside their desktop comfort zone.

And if Microsoft hopes to survive long term as a viable company, especially on the consumer side, it is going to have get its head and heart off the desktop and into the cloud.

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2 Comments

  1. By:FlyingGuy

    “I have a theory it’s a bit like IBM back when it was launching the PC. The legend has it that there was a big debate internally about how nice to make the computer keyboard. Eventually the engineers lost out to internal politics, which wanted to protect IBM’s profitable typewriter division”

    Actually not so much. What IBM did was very smart. The Selectric II typewriter had about the best touch and feel of any typewriter out there. Now word processing was turning towards the PC and that scared the bajeebers out of legions of secretaries. So what did IBM do? They spent a very LARGE sum of money making sure the keyboard for the PC and PC/AT came as close as possible to the touch and feel of the Selectric II. I still have my “clacky” keyboard and I am using it right now. I also have two others for spare parts AND they can be completely disassembled to cleaning and repair. Try that with a Dell keyboard. Oh wait! That does not fit with our “throw away” society!

    MS’s position with Ozz leaving really makes things interesting. Given that that state of Minnesota ( if I remember correctly ) has contracted with MS to move all their services to the cloud, Exchange etc. etc. it should be interesting how this all rounds out.

    I would not be surprised if he was given the old, “resign or be prosecuted” choice since as you correctly point out MS’s main thrust is Office / Windows on Desktops.

    The problem up in Redmond is mostly Steve Balmer. The man has no vision, hence Zune and all the other bits of computer junk littering the MS scrap pile. Everything they have put out since Apple started lighting up the world ( again ) has been a knock off that they tried to shoe horn Windows into and that strategy failed and will more then likely continue to fail unless some major re-thinking is happening at the MS campus. As long as Balmer is running the show, I just don’t see that happening.

    Bill Gates was pretty much the same, perhaps to a lesser degree. There is an old interview with Steve Jobs on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upzKj-1HaKw that really hits the nail on the head. Elegance IS important in a consumer product, perhaps not so much in business but I do see that beginning to change, and Bill Gates just didn’t get that.

    If I was on the Board of MS I would be thinking that it was time to get an Ozzy into the CEO chair.

  2. By:rsmiller510

    Hi:
    I totally agree with your assessment of Ballmer and I think for Microsoft to move forward, they have to get rid of him or he will run the company into the ground.

    The big difference between Gates and Ballmer is the vision thing. Gates had vision and he was a tough manager when it came to implementing it.

    As for the typewriter/keyboard metaphor, I’m not going to go there. :-)

    Thanks for your comments as always.

    Ron

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