Since the announcement that Ray Ozzie was taking over for Bill Gates, I've been doing some digging on Ray's background, some "ROzSearch" if you will. After looking at what he's written on his blog and the kinds of ideas he's championed, I'm really excited about what Microsoft is going to do. I also think he can breathe a ton of life into WPF and bring about its full potential. To use one of my favorite football analogies, if I were starting a company from scratch, I'd take Ray first overall in the corporate fantasy draft - assuming we're in the software division (you should ask me about corporate fantasy drafts, I assure you - it's riveting).
Ray is in a difficult position. Vista has, up to this point, been a disaster. They haven't shipped on time, the press is bad, and features are slowly leaking out of what was supposed to be a revolutionary operating system. In the Bill Gates world, the operating system is what gave Microsoft all of its power. We need to compete with a web browser? Bundle a free version with our OS. And it makes sense, it cost Bill an extraordinary amount of energy (and some would say karma) in order to get Windows its place as a dominant operating system. In Bill's mind, it starts and ends with Windows. Ray knows better, he knows it's all about the web. He sees that applications are being delivered over the web and that doesn't bode well for the operating system as it stands now. The upsurge in popularity that Apple is starting to see only makes the picture darker. But the bright side is that Ray's ideas are good. Simple Sharing Extensions? Great idea. The Office 2007 web demo? Brilliant. The Windows Live initiative? Quality, and much better than everyone thought it would be. The guy has been doing some very cool things while under the not-so-gentle eye of Bill Gates. Imagine what he can do once Bill is gone.
And that's part of the intrigue. 2 years seems a long way off, but it will be after Vista, after Office 2007, and after their web moves mature. He'll be taking over with what amounts to a clean slate and his biggest strength, web, playing a bigger part of the company. With the timing and the technology, we could legitimately be in a place to see Microsoft totally reinvent itself. Combine that with the fact that Microsoft may be the dominant player in the video game market (street cred) and make a bigger splash in mobile devices and you have a company with a lot of avenues to distribute its software - all heavily influenced by the web. Things could be rocking up in Redmond.
It's still a travesty that WPF isn't cross-platform, but I chalk that up to the "BillG" mentality. Make sure you use the power of the operating system. But under the "RayO" mentality, that's not going to be a given. WPF is awesome, and I think it's going to get big, enterprise-level developers and businesses to buy a ticket on the RIA train - but it's not cross platform, and that's bad. Ray has the mindset to change that. He sees how important the web is, and I think he sees that the next generation of software is going to be heavily internet based. He can't change things over night, but he can influence teams now, and by the time Bill steps down, he'll be able to get things turned around quickly. Don't let me down Ray - make Microsoft fun again.