Microsoft's outgoing Chief Software Architect on the 'post-PC world'

Microsoft's outgoing Chief Software Architect on the 'post-PC world'

Summary: Ray Ozzie may be a lame duck at this point, as he will soon be leaving his Chief Software Architect post at Microsoft. But that hasn't stopped him from publishing an updated assessment of Microsoft's strategy and products.


Ray Ozzie may be a lame duck at this point, as he will soon be leaving his Chief Software Architect post at Microsoft. But that hasn't stopped him from publishing an updated assessment of Microsoft's strategy and products.

On October 25, Ozzie posted to his newly minted blog a memo he sent to his staff and direct reports, entitled "Dawn of a New Day." In it, Ozzie examines what Microsoft has and hasn't achieved since he joined the company five years ago and penned his "Internet Services Disruption" memo. (Thanks to Student Partner Pradeep Viswav for the pointer to the latest Ozzie memo.)

The "Dawn of a New Day" memo makes it clear -- at least to me -- that Ozzie has concerns about Windows. He doesn't state this as bluntly as I just did. (And maybe the talk I've heard about an Ozzie vs. Windows Chief Steven Sinofsky feud is coloring my opinion here.) But you wouldn't catch any other member of Microsoft's top brass wondering aloud about the rightful reigning place of PCs in the future. Microsoft's official public stance is Windows PCs are now and will stay at the center of the computing universe, no matter what kinds of new devices become popular.

In his new memo, Ozzie described the "post-PC world" he sees coming -- a world of continuous services and connected devices. He noted that early adopters have "decidedly begun to move away from mentally associating our computing activities with the hardware/software artifacts of our past such as PC’s, CD-installed programs, desktops, folders & files."

The PC client and PC-based server models have become immensely complex because of a number of factors, Ozzie argued, including how broad and diverse the PC ecosystem has become and how complex it has become to "manage the acquisition & lifecycle of our hardware, software, and data artifacts," Ozzie said.

I doubt the Windows management would state things this way, but there is some evidence they realize this as well. Microsoft has been trying to detangle the ever-growing body of Windows code via projects like MinWin, and is making noises about simplifying the acquisition of software and services via a Windows app store in Windows 8.

But will those efforts be enough and happen quickly enough? More from Ozzie's latest memo:

"It’s undeniable that some form of this (PC) complexity is readily apparent to most all our customers: your neighbors; any small business owner; the ‘tech’ head of household; enterprise IT.

"Success begets product requirements. And even when superhuman engineering and design talent is applied, there are limits to how much you can apply beautiful veneers before inherent complexity is destined to bleed through.

"Complexity kills. Complexity sucks the life out of users, developers and IT. Complexity makes products difficult to plan, build, test and use. Complexity introduces security challenges. Complexity causes administrator frustration."

He notes that there's a flip side of complexity: It also provides some gaurantee of longevity because of the interdependencies it creates. You can't just flip a switch and get rid of something that is so deeply embedded in your work and home life.

Ozzie isn't predicting the PC is going away overnight. "The PC and its ecosystem is going to keep growing, and growing, for a long time to come," he opined. But if and when the post-PC world arrives, users and vendors need to be ready for it, he said.

Connected devices in Ozzie's view, are not the PCs of today. While some ultimately may look like today's desktop PCs or laptops, they'll be more like embedded devices, optimized for varying purposes, he said.

These next-gen devices, according to Ozzie, will "increasingly come in a breathtaking number of shapes and sizes, tuned for a broad variety of communications, creation & consumption tasks. Each individual will interact with a fairly good number of these connected devices on a daily basis – their phone / internet companion; their car; a shared public display in the conference room, living room, or hallway wall."

"Indeed some of these connected devices may even grow to bear a resemblance to today’s desktop PC or clamshell laptop," Ozzie continued. "But there’s one key difference in tomorrow’s devices: they’re relatively simple and fundamentally appliance-like by design, from birth. They’re instantly usable, interchangeable, and trivially replaceable without loss. But being appliance-like doesn’t mean that they’re not also quite capable in terms of storage; rather, it just means that storage has shifted to being more cloud-centric than device-centric. A world of content – both personal and published – is streamed, cached or synchronized with a world of cloud-based continuous services."

Ozzie's latest missive made it clearer, in my view, why he is leaving Microsoft. While there are some -- many, perhaps -- at the company who see things the way Ozzie does, I am doubtful that CEO Steve Ballmer and favored son Sinofsky do. Yes, Microsoft is pouring lots of marketing and development dollars into mobile and R&D, but decisions like prohibiting OEMs from preloading the more-touch-centric Windows Phone operating system on slates and tablets says to me that protecting the Windows PC fiefdom is Rule No. 1 in Redmond.

Secondly, if you look back at Ozzie's original Internet Services Disruption memo, some key changes for which he advocated haven't occured at all. Five years ago, Ozzie said that Microsoft needed to increase the tempo of delivery for both the base OS experiences and the additivie experiences and services that it delivered via its platforms division. Windows Vista was released to manufactuirng in 2006; Windows 7 in 2009. It looks like Windows 8 is on a track to hit in 2012. (However, it's looking like the Internet Explorer team may finally decouple its delivery schedule from Windows'; rumor has it the final IE 9 could be out before mid-2011.) Each Windows Live "wave" is as encumbered as Windows itself with planning, processes and procedures, making delivery anything but agile.

Ballmer recently told attendees at a Gartner conference that he considered the company's riskiest bet to be the next version of Windows. Yes, as a number of you readers have said, every version of Windows is risky because Windows is still Microsoft's biggest cash cow. There are more than a billion Windows PCs on the planet. Every new version is a "risk" to some degree.

But I can't help but wonder if the complexity in the OS itself, the PC ecosystem at large (as outlined by Ozzie) and in the competitive landscape also makes Windows 8, especially risky. Will Windows 8 really be an evolutionary release that will keep Windows PCs relevant in the post-PC new world? If so, in what way(s)?

Topics: Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • How ironic considering a fellow blogging is talking mainframes

    The PC will never disappear, just like the mainframe hasn't disappeared.

    Yes the client/server model will evolve but there will always be servers, and there will always be clients.

    The only thing that is changing is a deeper split between information consumption (and the clients that enable it), and information creation (and the clients that enable it).

    On the creation side, self-contained PCs will always be around because it is inevitable that laws and corporate greed will destroy trust in cloud computing. Homeland security can rummage all it wants in a cloud, but it can't rummage on a local PC.
    • RE: Microsoft's outgoing Chief Software Architect on the 'post-PC world'

      @croberts <br>Information consumption will always outnumber information creation at least 100 to 1. In the PC era, both types of users use the same device, in the future that may not be the case. <br><br>With the advent of mobile devices and tablets it is clear that an information consumer can do very well with just a touch screen. iPad is a perfect example of integrating hardware and software into an experience which is very personal and can also be very productive. The automated software installation and ease of use makes it a perfect commodity product.<br><br>In my opinion, the PC's will be used in the future for information creation but in much smaller numbers than today.
  • RE: Microsoft's outgoing Chief Software Architect on the 'post-PC world'

    My guess:<br>"Connected devices in Ozzies view, are not the PCs of today. While some ultimately may look like todays desktop PCs or laptops, theyll be more like embedded devices, optimized for varying purposes, he said"<br>Does not the above sound same as what Steve Ballmer says when he argues that Windows will be present in different devices and in different form factor. People might be using Windows but it might not look like one at all. I think thats where MSFT is headed with W8. W8 will be present in Desktops, Mobile, Slate and other form factors. Probably the footprint of OS will be smaller for mobile devices with UI being customized for the form factor. <br>The question will be how fast does MSFT moves in this direction.
  • Windows v.Next - Evolutionary

    There is nothing in the PC world that hasn't been done already. Even the iPhone and iPad were here years ago in some primitive form. Its just that there has been a whole lot of refinement and enablers that make the technology more attractive. Processors have become smaller, more memory, better battery life, wireless networks all contributed to these devices we have today. What Microsoft I believe is doing is conforming to whats hot today with the next release, but making it lead all the way back to "Windows".

    If you at least create Windows v.Next with a iPad centric UI, the fact is, its still Windows, its still a license you have to pay for, its makes the product relevant, it still makes it possible for Microsoft sell any number of editions of Windows v.Next to OEM's and end users.

    The question is, will they be two years too late if what I am reading is true? Remember, Tablets are not like PC's, they are more consumption devices than traditional PC's that are geared towards content creation. Nobody really cares about Microsoft Publisher, Word or Excel on a Tablet. If you can access Facebook and Twitter, do email and use the web naturally on the device, its more than enough.

    Microsoft has an issue, the PC Centric experience is very limiting, Microsoft needs to understand that product teams and ISV's will need to refine their products for Tablet/Touch/iPad centric Windows. Yes, Windows v.Next might just as good as the iPad, but if the software and services built around it (Office, Windows Live, custom software) are built to harness it, then you just will have a useless Touch Windows like we have today with Windows 7.

    Microsoft needs to create something that is familiar yet difference with Windows v.Next. They have a touch centric Taskbar which will need a little more refinement. Microsoft needs to understand
    - quicker access to elements is very important.
    - it needs to feel natural, not bolted on
    - partners ISVs and IHVs need to work on devices and services that ready from day one when these things hit the market, they need to be thin, light, decent screen and feature every single feature of the iPad plus more.
    - Every product team at Microsoft needs to get Windows Touch for Windows v.Next: Office, Windows Live, Media Player, Networking, CRM, etc.

    Microsoft needs to make it seems evolutionary, not revolutionary, because revolutionary is such a loaded word that carries a lot of connotations. It can mean, OMG, not another Vista! It needs to be something that just integrates with your existing investments without any second thought.
    Mr. Dee
  • Enterprise PC's

    Sure, PC's will begin to disappear from the home, but everyone uses PC's at work...and that's not going change. You're simply not going to replace a 23" monitor with a 9.7" tablet for 8 hours of continuous-use.

    Laptops and tablets are expensive both in terms of initial cost and cost-to-own. Businesses arent going to replace their $700 desktop setups with $1000 laptops simply because Gatner says its the thing to do.

    CTO is a big issue with mobile computing devices; you can't simply pop a new screen onto a laptop when it fails, and most laptop components are proprietary, so you can't shop price with third-party vendors. Then there is the performance factor; tablets and low-end laptops simply don't have the horsepower of a desktop, and powerful laptops cost way too much to be practical. Durability has to be considered, as well. As soon as you take a delicate device like a laptop offsite and start throwing it in your trunck or jostling is around, you increase the chances of all kinds of issues. Mobile devices simply wear out faster than stationary-ones.

    What about security? Imagine the nightmarish scenario of having two hundred enterprise laptops floating around "somewhere". Even if they're encrypted, you still have a lot of money floating around in the ether, being used by children, grandchildren, girlfriends, wives...

    What about patch-management and software-pushes? You've got two hundred mobile devices out there, but you don't know which ones are "pingable" at any given time, so keeping everying at the same update-status is virtually impossible.
    • re: 23" monitors, insufficient "horsepower", etc.

      Your post seems to be about the current situation: more expensive "full laptop computers" versus desktops. Ray's discussing something else. "Horsepower" is almost irrelevant to a server-based application: for example, when you run Google-Earth in a Browser, you don't need to have Terrabytes of earth images and data on your PC.
      But more important, the methods of accessing and DEVELOPING such applications are likely to become "easy", compared to the complexities which exist now.

      And of course, software update is easier: you probably only need to Update on the Server; even if you do need to update Client SW, you can do it at application-connect time. A RELIABLE network makes simple Clients possible. I agree with you about all the maintenance hassles of full-fledged Windows desktops- but Ray's talking about a different environment for the delivery of computer services and information.

      As for screen size: Many laptops already provide a semi-useful DB15 port for external video. I imagine that the kind of "future phone/pc all-in-one" computer which Ray is talking about will easily support 1080p HDMI, and possibly (in some versions) something a lot better that that.
      Rick S._z
  • Complexity Kills

    And the biggest source of complexity is the product tie-ins that have fueled the growth of all Microsoft products beyond Windows and Office. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
  • Think 10 years down the road

    Ray Ozzie is talking about a time when the applications we use, the information stored will become more and more portable. The further decentralizes the PC in our life and makes it more easily substituted.

    Windows is at a point in its life where it needs to be both functional in a closed office device (say a desktop in a secure office) AND in an open mobile device (laptop of a traveling salesman). It's a fork in the road and the platform will need to choose with a successor taking the other fork.
    • RE: Microsoft's outgoing Chief Software Architect on the 'post-PC world'

      Ray Ozzie isn't talking about the future, he's talking about the past. He's re-selling the SNA/3270 vision of the past.

      Right now, I can buy a fairly capable desktop or laptop PC for around $500 and be done with the investment for the next couple of years. Throw in $30-$50 per month ($360-$600 per year) for broadband Internet access and there is very little I cannot do with my personal computer.

      The vision that Ray Ozzie is selling is a retread of the mainframe/timesharing paradigm that he learned at Data General, Lotus and IBM.

      If you replace "cloud" with "mainframe" and replace "device" with "terminal", it is more or less word-for-work state-of-the-art 1970.

      The vision that Ozzie is sellling is instead of buying a cheap personal computer, smart phone and portable computer every two-to-three years; you would buy multiple fixed-function devices then pay multiple monthly or annual subscriptions to "cloud" services.

      My total hardware outlay over the past two years (PC: Core2 Quad/ASUS mobo computer with (3) 23 inch monitors + (1) 37" TV connected through HDMI; laptop: Toshiba Satellite; smartphone: HTC Tilt2) was less than $2000. My annual costs for connectivity are $500 for cable-based broadband and $1800 (mobile phone, broadband). My total annual outlay: call it $4000. Next year I only pay for broadband, so call it another $2300.

      If Ray Ozzie and his mainframe-centric vision of the future can deliver a fully-loaded experience for less money, including similar hardware (4 large-format monitors on the PC) with all the software capabilities I currently use.... I'll consider it.

      Ray Ozzie was there to serve as a bridge during Gate's exit from Microsoft. No one else had the street cred to fill Gate's shoes. After Lotus Notes and Groove Networks, Ozzie had the cred... but not the fit with Microsoft's vision or culture.

      Does Microsoft's vision and culture need to continue to evolve? Yes. Is a mainframe-centric vision a future that would serve Microsoft or users? I don't think so. I think that computing has gone from centralized to decentralized and the pendulum is swinging back towards centralization.
      Marc Jellinek
  • Complexity is an issue no matter what direction we take

    I think the issue of complexity is pervasive. It colors business models, back-office operations, and bureaucratic mandating of inscrutible and inexplicable requirements and systems decisions.

    Years ago, I heard computer pioneer Franz Alt deliver a keynote that said our mission, in computing and in IT, was to master complexity. What he seemed to have overlooked was that we also had tools for making things even more complexified than ever before, something another pioneer, Edsgar W. Dijkstra, laid at our feed, and we now have in front of us a gigantic technical debt that is the result of our pandering of our wares in the name of competitive differentiation and "innovation."

    This is unsustainable. We do need an evolutionary way out of it, as painful as that may become, and it will involve transformation of much of our attitude about tolerating complexity as if the consequent externalities never have to be remedied. These are serious pay me now, or pay me later, but you *will* pay matters.

    We can't run away from the mess. We have to evolve out of it. It will impact more than just software developers and the PC.
    • Complexity is indeed

      Complexity is an universal topic in science and technology. Reduce complexity is all we engineers, scientists do everyday, we just didn't explicitely use the word. Law of Gravity, Theory of Relativity are the greatest examples of it. The fact that computer systems are designed in a layered structure is a clear effort of it. However, there is one thing I want to point out: there is difference between vision and how to achieve it. I respect what Ozzie can see what others don't. But he didn't say how to achieve it. I think where Ozzie and Ballmer have difference.
  • The post-pc generation

    Microsoft can and will respond to everything Apple had done with the iPhone and iPad. The biggest advantage Apple has created is an OS (IOS) that is an order of magnitude simpler to use and support than either OS's for the Mac or PC and a growing ecosystem around this OS. I continually support my daughter with her Mac, the rest of my family (including my father) with their PC's. Yet I never have to support any of them with their iPhones or iPads. In the long run this is the biggest issue Microsoft needs to address (ie. a new version of Windows that is an order of magnitude simpler than Windows 7). At this point, Windows Phone 7 is just a promising candidate to meet that need.
  • I thought I was reading the words of Eric Schmidt

    Sounded like a description of the all-knowing eyes of GoOgle when I saw Razy Ozzie describe the future devices of Microsoft: <br><br>Service-connected devices going far beyond just the screen, keyboard and mouse: humanly-natural conscious devices that'll see, recognize, hear & listen to you and what's around you, that'll feel your touch and gestures and movement, that'll detect your proximity to others; that'll sense your location, direction, altitude, temperature, heartbeat & health.
  • RE: Microsoft's outgoing Chief Software Architect on the 'post-PC world'

    I think everyone including Microsoft is making a migration to platform independent web based applications and services over purely server and client installed applications. The issue I see is that Microsoft's too segmented right now to come with a coherent strategy and too greedy to realize that no sustainable strategy exists. People say MS doesn't innovate, but the problem is actually that they over innovate and don't communicate. For the consumer, I buy licenses for one product; these need another product I also have to buy because it wasn't included, and then I get inundated with ads that support the services that I use in another product that I also use with these products I just bought and MS looks like a greedy monster bleeding the consumer for all they are worth. They need to get one plan and go with it not let each department try and compete to see who can leach the most money from the consumer. They also need to begin bundling complete packages that don't bite businesses in the butt 5 years down the line.
  • The "appliances" *ARE* PCs. But the Sales model does change.

    Ozzie's "connected devices" will be PC's -- with lots of computing power, lots of storage capability. But Ray and nearly all the previous comments are correct about the key difference: Software "distribution" models should be different when the option of a RELIABLE, high bandwidth, and permanently available network is present. More things will run net-connected, both browser-based and otherwise. This creates a severe threat to Microsoft's revenue model for it's money making products (Windows itself, and Office, based on "per PC" and installed via Registry Entries within Windows instances.) For the rest of us, it might actually become a lot nicer.
    Rick S._z
  • RE: Microsoft's outgoing Chief Software Architect on the 'post-PC world'

    Actually, worse than tl. Incomprehensible in places.
    Marcos El Malo
  • Boring Treatise from a Lotus Notes Dinosaur

    Sheesh, what a long, boring treatise that simply states the obvious when you strip away all his complex, obscuring prose. It reads like something a techno-journalist like Nick Negroponte would be proud of writing. And why blather on and on about a vision when you're leaving a post where you could've help to implement it ?! Ozzie is WAY too full of himself. Yes, yes, he's accomplished far more than I ever have or will but so what ? What's he done for the PC world lately, except to say it's over. That's quitter talk and it's delusional too. But wait, he even hedges that and says the PC will continue to grow for a long time. Sheesh, commit to a point, Ray.

    We're no closer to a post-PC world than the auto industry was to a post-auto world when the airplane, motorcycle, and Segway (LOL) came along. Those mobility options just focused the auto industry more, and it's the same with PCs. We now have more data mobility options but it doesn't mean the end of PCs by any stretch.

    I could go on and on about how the evolution of PCs mirrors that of automobiles but that'll be left as an exercise for the reader. The point is that PCs will adapt and evolve to our future needs and requirements just as mobile communication devices will on their own path, and just as will Net-capable televisions on their own path.
  • RE: Microsoft's outgoing Chief Software Architect on the 'post-PC world'

    Personal computer may come in different shape or form in near future (example wearable tech). <br><br>Despite the ability of cloud and seemless 24x7 service, there would still be instances whereby we need personal computing power. example, we still requires local processing power to maintain connection to the cloud. <br><br>Personal Computer will still be needed, well one can change its name, example to Personal processor. However that processor will still require interface, example modem to interface to cloud, sensors ... etc. It still require some form of display. <br><br>Hence instead of post PC, I think it is more of a evolved PC. //remember I am a PC ^^<br><br>Windows is everywhere, this brand is in Cars, Mobile phone, Embedded devices, Laptop, Cloud, servers .... etc. <br><br>Thanks to Mr Ozzie, Mr Ballmer and everyone in MS, MS has operating systems to support whole spectrum of computering devices.<br><br>However those are still isolated devices connected loosely by fabric of Internet. Would we want to resolve that complexity by using one seamless operating system?<br><br>1) Wearable Tech would defintely be growing in next 5 years, MS has venture into watches in the past, should they venture into clothings?<br><br>2) MS is deep into user interface devices, what about display devices?<br><br>Thanks Mr Ozzie. That is quite a good memo to kick start ones thinking process. <br>Thanks Ms Foley, for blogging and covering this memo.
  • RE: Microsoft's outgoing Chief Software Architect on the 'post-PC world'

    As Einstein said, things should be as simple as possible - but no simpler.
  • RE: Microsoft's outgoing Chief Software Architect on the 'post-PC world'

    I think many are confused between physical devices like a desktop PC, operating systems, and what we use the devices for.

    Someone on this thread said PCs and Servers will survive; well yes -- we'll always be using some kind of device to do some local things (personal address book? personal notes) and a server is a server whether it resides in your department, an IT center, or the cloud.

    The question is, if devices prevail over desktop PCs (and I believe that has already started to happen, particularly if you take a world-wide view), will MS be relevant if it's still emphasizing a desktop-centric world view and an operating system optimized around that view.