Saving Microsoft: Can Ray Ozzie Fix the House that Bill Built?

  • The short answer: YES… I think so
  • The long answer: Below….


Well here’s the article I have been waiting a couple of months for – Ray Ozzie on the over of Wired this month (edition 16-12). It’s still not hit the UK shores in hard copy but a friend kindly sent me a scan to read over the weekend. I was going to title the post Turning the Super Tanker but thought Wired’s own headline was catchier so hope they don’t mind me borrowing.

I’ve been mulling it over during the weekend and here’s my take so far…


You get the best insight yet in to Ozzie and what makes him tick. All roads lead back to Plato and though some people think Ray is always recreating Notes, it now seems clear that the bloodline of his work is Plato. That does him a disservice though as the real underbelly of this article is captured there on the cover page – he’s a change agent who is busy turning a super tanker. Or at least trying to. Kudos to Scoble who made that observation recently when commenting on the PDC

At the PDC, Ray and his team showed how much they’ve shifted the super tanker (and amazingly kept it pretty quiet – no leaks!). Now we have to see if he can make it gather pace. Sure, Microsoft is never going to be a speedboat but can we be more nimble? And can we bring the flotilla with us?  I think Live Mesh is a good bit of positive evidence but it’s early days.

Back to the Wired piece – there are some other interesting gems in there that form part of this elaborate jigsaw of Ozzie. Here are a few of the nuggets I enjoyed:


  • Levy mentions that Ray used a Twistori style presentation recently to explain himself to Microsoft staff. There was a lot more to it than Levy includes in the piece and much of it had a 15,000 strong crowd cheering like crazy this summer. Me included. Ray was the highlight of that conference with a stunning presentation. Whisper it….Bill would have been hard pushed to beat it.
  • Check out photo #2 – did Plato have keyboards like that? I suspect so…
  • He acknowledges that “Our greatest challenge may lie within”. Check.
  • I expected it to come out more in this article but one of the key players behind Windows Azure (aka Red Dog) is Dave Cutler. When I was first told that nugget it changed my view instantly on how serious we are about this stuff. Go to Wikipedia to find out more about why I say this (sidenote: Cutler’s photo changed sometime in the last week)
  • Bill Gates had once described Ozzie as "one of the top five programmers in the universe." Not a bad reference I guess.


Nuggets aside, I think the article is an important one as it’s another rare external milestone so I thought I’d share some more thoughts on what I have seen over the last few years and where we I think we go from here.


People are expecting a lot of Ray and they’re right to. You don’t get to be CSA of Microsoft and get an easy ride. The mistake I think some have made (internally and externally) is to expect a new Bill. I was one of them for a while and then I saw Ray present to a small group of senior executives just over a year ago. It changed my opinion. It was an unfair expectation. Nobody will replace Bill Gates at Microsoft. If Ray (or anyone) tried to they’d fail. That doesn’t really need explaining…but then we need to move on and take Ray at face value.

That has sort of been hard to do as he doesn’t show his cards too often but when he does he leaves an interesting trail of breadcrumbs if you’re really watching. As I’ve said many times on this blog I think the 2007 FAM presentation was the beginning. From that moment, Ray and the teams he’s worked with have diligently delivered on what he laid out there. That isn’t something could always accuse Microsoft of. The PDC, and in some ways this Wired article, are the culmination of the journey laid out during that FAM pitch.

Now the real test begins. Levy teases with the question on the cover but he doesn’t really answer it. I’m not so sure Microsoft needs to be saved but yes, there are some renovations underway to the house Bill built. Levy certainly provides plenty of evidence to suggest that Ozzie has earned his stripes as captain of the super tanker but to continue the analogy one step further, he now has to navigate the cargo through some interesting waters and complex locks. A clue to that complexity lies in Steve Ballmer’s two comments in the piece:


"This is one of the brilliant guys of our time. Now he's got a bigger stage, given by Microsoft, and a bigger transformation, driven by the Internet. It's the ultimate opportunity for one of the world's great drivers, thinkers, and technical minds."

"The Internet didn't require a change in business practices, just technology changes," Ballmer says. "The notion of moving toward more subscription-based models, more ad-based models, is a bigger change for more people." 


and then the last two paragraphs of the Wired article give you some sense of Ray’s commitment and the scale of the challenge. However, go back to that 2007 presentation once more. Here is what Ray said then


“…this transformation from software to software plus services, is a very, very big deal for our company. It'll be a very critical aspect of all of our offerings over the next few years. We're building a platform to support our own apps and solutions, and to support our partners' applications and solutions, and to support enterprise solutions and enterprise infrastructure. We are the only company in the industry that has the breadth of reach from consumer to enterprises to understand and deliver and to take full advantage of the services opportunity in all of these markets. I believe we're the only company with the platform DNA that's necessarily to viably deliver this highly leveragable platform approach to services. And we're certainly one of the few companies that has the financial capacity to capitalize on this sea change, this services transformation.”


If I’m honest with you and myself, that’s why I’m still here. I believe we’ve got the right guy and the supertanker is turning. We shall see.

Comments (3)
  1. chrishill says:

    "Levy mentions that Ray used a Twistori style presentation recently to explain himself to Microsoft staff"

    I think I know the answer to this already but is there any externally available video of this presentation?

  2. stevecla01 says:

    you know the answer Chris…shame but internal only

  3. northerngeek says:

    It’s my personal belief that a lot of Microsoft doesn’t need to be turned around, MS do a great job at so many things. If anything I would say it’s perception that needs changing, something that has been helped a lot by consumer devices (e.g. Xbox) that have made MS more of a brand that youngsters can be seen to like. Now if they’d just release the Zune worldwide perhaps more people could see that!

    It’s going to be a slow, slow process, and I think Ozzie is one of the best guys to have at the helm, but perception seems to be counting for more and more nowadays (see: Apple).

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