Windows Up On Ray Ozzie
If you're the man who replaced Bill Gates, you're sure to inherit a certain mystique and engender intense interest both inside Microsoft and out. But since Ray Ozzie took over as the company's chief software architect this year, he has studiously maintained a low public profile that has fueled curiosity even further.
Ozzie broke his silence this week at the "Web 2.0 Summit" in San Francisco, where he appeared on stage to be interviewed by conference chairman John Battelle of Federated Media.
Right off, Ozzie was asked about a dire, internal Microsoft memo he wrote shortly after joining Microsoft last year warning the company could be at risk if it did not remake itself to compete in the rapidly emerging Internet economy. Though Microsoft has had a presence on the Web for more than a decade, its fortunes have been built overwhelmingly on desktop software, such as the Windows operating system, known in its upcoming version as Vista, and the Office productivity suite. At the time he wrote the memo, which was immediately leaked to the media, Ozzie said some at the company failed to appreciate the urgency of his message.
"When I came to the company, I could see some people really got it with respect to the shift if the industry," he said. But he continued, "Some people were heads down working on Vista, working on Office."
A passionate advocate for offering software services over the Web, Ozzie reprised his theme that everyone at Microsoft must pay attention to the Internet because it will fundamentally influence each product the company offers. But inside the company, Ozzie does not speak with the same authority as Gates. Ozzie said he was initially given a "free pass" largely because of his longtime relationship with Gates and Chief Executive Steve Ballmer but is now working at winning over Gates's minions inside the company. "I've got to earn that followership and that takes time," he said.
Meantime, arch-rival Google continues to reap ever larger profits on the Internet and has in recent months been rolling out more and more Web-based services that can go head-to-head with Microsoft's core Office products, including software for word processing, spreadsheets and calendars. This challenge -- and Google's status as a darling of the media and the markets -- have infuriated some in Microsoft. "People are used to winning," he admitted.
But Ozzie, a soft-spoken, silver-haired man with a far more measured aspect than his predecessor, was downright diplomatic when asked about Google's success. "They've delivered good values to users and users have rewarded them," Ozzie admitted. "They're a force to be reckoned with for many people in the industry.
Still, he predicted that Microsoft could defend itself. He said half a billion people worldwide already use Microsoft's Office products and can be convinced to stick with the company as it turns its attention to the potential of the Web.
"I've got this audience," he said. "All we have to do is show them that we get it."
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