Almost everything people are saying about Windows Phone 7 includes references to either the improvements since Windows Mobile or the fact that Microsoft is bringing out a new OS in a space that already has strong players who've been there for a while, usually phrased as 'late to the party'. Yes, but (as they say).
The thing with WP7 is, yes Apple and Google have had several years to add features to their initial OS; Microsoft has gone from a standing start to WP7 in 18 months and they haven't been able to do all the features in that time to match Android and iOS. What they have done is, I think, excellent, but there are things missing because of their time wandering in the wilderness and throwing away market share like it was going out of fashion - I'd say Windows Phone 7 is off to the side in a different direction from iPhone and Android but not as far along its curve in some areas. Can Microsoft add the features they need to in order to get to where we really want Windows Phone 7 to be? Absolutely. Can they do it in time to keep competing with iPhone and Android (and Palm WebOS and Nokia if they put on a growth spurt)? Yes - copy and paste will be coming to every Windows Phone 7 handset early next year, for example - but only if the Windows Phone team stays inspired and carries on working hard and executing at high speed. Microsoft has to be on target for the long haul, even as the market and the technology space changes.
And keeping up with which changes in technology are so important that they have to go into every part of the Microsoft platform is what a chief geek is so good for - and that's what Microsoft is losing with Ray Ozzie. Ozzie pushed the company to cloud, to making a start on continuum computing and sync with 'three screens and a cloud' (a job I was relying on him pushing through to something much more polished) and to setting up a fast innovation lab that actually delivered some products. He did it by seeing the big picture, by being able to impress the geeks at Microsoft with his technical ability and by repeating the mantras in a consistent but technically relevant way (it's kind of an irregular verb - marketing repeats catch phrases, chief geeks show how core principles are related to different areas).
Without a chief geek to scan the horizon and rally the troops to new directions, the danger is that Windows Phone could catch up to where iOS and Android are and match or overtake them on the current path - but not respond in time to whatever the next tectonic shift in technology happens to be. Ray Ozzie leaving doesn't mean any area of Microsoft will automatically fall behind; there are more amazingly smart people at Microsoft than I can count, including Bill Buxton of Microsoft Research who has had a significant impact on the user experience and usability and delightfulness of Windows Phone and he isn't going to be taking his eyes off the ball any time soon.
But what Microsoft needs to do is stay on top of their game for the long haul; no complacency, no laurel resting. Having a visionary who also has authority around is hard work in lots of ways, but it's handy for that. Mary Branscombe