Ozzie leaves Microsoft a New Dawn memo

Ozzie leaves Microsoft a New Dawn memo

Summary: Ray Ozzie, Bill Gates's replacement as Microsoft's Chief Software Architect, has posted Dawn of a New Day -- his "goodbye memo" -- a bit ahead of time. First, it's dated October 28.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Ray Ozzie, Bill Gates's replacement as Microsoft's Chief Software Architect, has posted Dawn of a New Day -- his "goodbye memo" -- a bit ahead of time. First, it's dated October 28. Second, it looks forward to a "Post PC" world dominated by "continuous services and connected devices" (his emphasis). He says:

Connected devices beyond the PC 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. 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.

He does acknowledge that Microsoft has made progress, over the past five years, in developing to the core vision of cloud-based services that he outlined five years ago in another memo, The Internet Services Disruption. (See my earlier post, Ozzie to leave Microsoft: future cloudy.)

Today, Microsoft does have plenty of web-based services and, in Azure, a cloud offering that will initially provide incremental income to its PC client and server software businesses. It has the beginnings of a powerful system for supporting "three screens and a cloud" that potentially put it ahead of both Apple (which still insists on syncing things to its bloated desktop software) and Google (which has online applications of very variable quality, and has not been very successful on the desktop). But, of course, there is no guarantee that Microsoft will continue to develop on its strategy with the sort of pace and quality that will be needed to stay in the race.

Ozzie points out that his title, Dawn of a New Day, was the theme of the 1939 World's Fair in New York, when the Second World War was breaking out in Europe. Ozzie says:

Surrounding the event, stories were written and vividly told to help everyone envision and dream of a future of modern conveniences; superhighways & spacious suburbs; technological wonders to alleviate hardship and improve everyday life.

I'm sure all this is meant to inspire Softies to imagine and build a new future in computing rather than to make them think of Google as Nazi Germany ("Tomorrow belongs to me") with Steve Jobs as, perhaps, Benito Mussolini.

The problem is that Microsoft has never been short of vision. At the Comdex trade show in November 1999, for example, it was pushing a strategy of cloud computing with easy-to-use web-based companion computers. In a Q&A: Microsoft Unveils a New Way to Access the Web, Jon DeVaan, senior vice president of Microsoft's Consumer and Commerce Group, explained:

Web companions are a new breed of Internet-access device, designed for people who want a simple way to surf the Web and communicate with others. MSN-based Web Companions are a line of devices within this product category that provides the same rich Internet experience a PC provides, but with more fun built in-by way of a more intuitive user interface, easier-to-find controls and simpler steps to Internet access. Because MSN-based Web Companions are powered by the Microsoft Windows CE operating system, they offer user-friendly features such as Instant-On and a single-screen user interface.

DeVaan went on to explain that:

MSN-based Web Companions help people make the most of their time on the Web. Because of their small, lightweight form factors, these devices can be used in any room of the house for such tasks as online bill paying, staying in touch by email, or electronic shopping. Moreover, this device will not become obsolete; users will always experience the best Internet technology as the devices are updated via the Web automatically.

These devices included ultralight notebooks, eventually including the Psion Netbook, and tablets. Also, in the same year, Microsoft announced its Windows Distributed interNet Architecture (Windows DNA), which led to the .NET strategy in 2000. The company said: "Microsoft .NET (pronounced dot net) will provide easier, more personalized, and more productive Internet experiences by harnessing constellations of smart devices and Web sites with advanced software through Internet protocols and formats." When Ozzie talks of devices from "the remotely diagnosed elevator, to the sensors on our highways", he's not telling Microsoft anything it didn't know a dozen years ago.

Microsoft's real problem isn't its vision, but its execution.

Take smartphones, for example, Microsoft saw the need to develop an operating system for consumer electronics devices such as handheld organisers (Pocket PCs), games consoles (Sega Dreamcast), WebTV, smartphones (Windows Mobile), cars (Windows Automotive), sewing machines and similar products -- they're all based on Windows CE -- and with Sendo, it had a prototype Stinger smartphone running in 2000. This was before Apple launched the iPod, let alone the iPhone. Did this vision enable Windows Mobile to dominate the smartphone market? No answer required.

There are some signs that Microsoft is improving its execution. The new Office 2007/2010 and Windows Phone 7 interfaces are extremely innovative, for example. The Xbox Live and the new Windows Live services are generally as good as and sometimes better than anything else available. Windows 7 is an outstanding operating system, and is on track to take over the market. Bing still has lots of problems but it can deliver more useful results than Google (though not often enough to replace it as my home page). In all these areas, Microsoft 2010 is delivering dramatic improvements over Microsoft 2005, but it has a very long way to go.

There's not much point in telling Microsoft to have a vision that's more like Google's, because Microsoft had that vision long before Google did. What Microsoft really needs is a way to make its development processes as rapid, agile, flexible and productive as Google's -- though ideally without producing as many half-baked products. That would be worth a lot more than a new dawn: it would be a new decade.

Topic: Tech Industry

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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  • @jack: "Microsoft's real problem isn't its vision, but its execution."
    I actually do have a problem with Microsoft's vision, which IMHO is similar to Apple's, in that they want to tie people and organisations into using their software and services.

    "The new Office 2007/2010 and Windows Phone 7 interfaces are extremely innovative"
    Have you actually met anyone that can use, let alone _likes_, the Office 2007 ribbon?! ;)
    Jake Rayson
  • Jake -

    "Have you actually met anyone that can use, let alone _likes_, the Office 2007 ribbon?!"

    I like it - because it makes it MUCH easier to get people to switch to OpenOffice.org, or any one of the other FOSS alternatives. I'm actually very hopeful about that interface, as I have heard it is supposed to spread through other Microsoft products, including Windows, in the future. Just think how many more people we could get to switch to FOSS operating systems and applications then!

    jw

    P.S. The problem with Microsoft's "vision" is that the only thing they are concerned with is how to reach deeper into the consumer's pocket, over and over again, for "new versions" of the same old tired products.
    j.a.watson1
  • @Jake Rayson
    > Have you actually met anyone that can use, let alone _likes_, the Office 2007 ribbon?! ;)

    Yes, dozens of them, though I appreciate it has a stonger appeal to people with open minds, a bit of taste and serious work to do. Happily there seem to be plenty of us, because "strong sales of Office 2010" just lifted the revenues of Microsoft's Business Division to $5.12 billion in the latest quarter. It actually brought in more money than the Windows Division.

    @J.A. Watson
    > I like it - because it makes it MUCH easier to get people to switch to OpenOffice.org,

    So they not only dislike superior user interfaces they prefer slow, bug-ridden products that cost more than they're worth? Cool! It will be interesting to see if OO.org gets an update from copying old Microsoft Office to copying new Microsoft Office and adds a ribbon. One of the forks might go that way, perhaps?

    > The problem with Microsoft's "vision" is that the only thing they are
    > concerned with is how to reach deeper into the consumer's pocket,
    > over and over again, for "new versions" of the same old tired products.

    Meanwhile IBM, Apple, Adobe, and a zillion other commercial companies never upgrade their products, right? Well, Office 2007/2010 are both innovative *and* commerically successful, in spite of there being a free "alternative", so I can understand why that upsets you enough to lash out without thinking it through.

    By the way, I appreciate your CONSTANT and faithful attention -- it's very flattering, I'm sure -- and I assume it fills some sort of empty hole in your calendar or even your life. However, it would be much more fun if you could you try to make the odd interesting or even *new* point. After all, this is ZD Net, not COLA ;-)
    Jack Schofield
  • @jack(ass) - I think you need to have a serious discussion with the editing staff at ZDnet UK about whether personal attacks are appropriate here. It is, however, pleasing to know that having others post the truth about your drivel is making you uncomfortable.

    jw
    j.a.watson1
  • @jake meet me; I'm a huge fan of the ribbon. I spent five years telling Microsoft they needed to reorganise the Office interface to find logical homes for features they had shoehorned into extra tabs on unrelated dialog boxes and buried menus. The ribbon is a logical arrangement of just about every feature and in 2010 you can make your own tabs and move icons on the default ribbons to put everything where you want. If you were an expert Office users, yes you have to learn the interface again - and you're abandoning the hours of pain you went through learning where the wretched commands were hidden so it's hardly fun. But like searching for the app you want on the Start menu rather than arranging program groups by hand, it's a change that makes you more productive (and yes, all the old keyboard shortcuts work). The ribbon is also a great stick to beat Microsoft with because it hasn't been universally popular - but unless you're prepared to give your reasons, it can come across as bashing Microsoft for the sake of it.
    M
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • @JW,
    > I think you need to have a serious discussion with the editing staff at ZDnet
    > UK about whether personal attacks are appropriate here

    You don't think that referring to Jack as "jack(ass)" is in any way a personal attack then?

    @Mary,
    I wanted to like the ribbon in Office 2007, but was defeated. Sorry, but I don't find it's layout "logical" at all. I like the header styles being available on the main ribbon tab, but that's about it. Other than that, it's just too damned hard to find anything. Even when you do where things are, it also seems to be too many clicks to get to them. It even "cheats" by having a File menu that's not called a File menu. It's a nameless button that you click on to get to things like Save and Print.

    Another problem with the ribbon is that it takes up space in the vertical plain, which is where you can least afford to lose it when you're typing on to a (digital) sheet of A4. And that goes double if you're using a widescreen display; e.g. just about any notebook or netbook.

    Disclaimer - I've not used the Office 2010 version of the ribbon, but it sounds like an improvement. It could hardly be anything else, IMHO.

    A product that I think has got this kind of thing right is the new Lotus Symphony 3.0. Its ribbon equivalent (I don't know if it has a name) is on the right hand side, where you have the "margins" of your sheet of A4 and it's context sensitive. It's also cross-platofrm and free! I wonder if Jack's tried it at all, let alone with "an open mind"?
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • @Jack,
    > because "strong sales of Office 2010" just lifted the revenues of Microsoft's
    > Business Division to $5.12 billion

    And the Sun sells a lot of copies, Jack; it outsells the Guardian by a margin of 10 to 1. Does that it make it any good?
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • This thread, and a few others, has led to contentious discussion with on the merits/demerits of Microsoft products and their 'commercial' behaviour versus free software (GNU Linux generally), from which it becomes clear that Jack has unequivocal support for Microsoft whereas many other contributors, including myself, disagree with his position, which often seems to fly in the face of established facts.

    This has led to a series of non productive comments and responses rehearsing old and established arguments. Nonetheless, certain original and inaccurate assertions by Jack ask to be challenged, but this tends to lead to an excess of comments backwards and forward, is getting personal, and distorting ZDNet news items, blogs and talkbacks.

    The underpinning of this 'conflict' appears, amongst other things, to be rooted in the old chestnut of the commercial proprietary model versus the open source model.

    Myself, I like choice, real choice, *and* the freedom to choose - to make up my own mind, and I feel this is, in part, denied to me by the actions of a small number of companies exercising their muscle as dominant monopolies.

    Only my opinion and not to be taken personally.
    The Former Moley
  • While it's easy to get carried away a bit in the middle of an interesting argument, personal attacks or provocations are not tolerated on this site. The idea is to have a reasonable discussion about technology, without worrying about being lambasted for it.

    If you see any provocative remarks, or any comment that contravenes our guidelines, please send me an email at community.manager@zdnet.co.uk, and I'll act on it.

    Bear in mind that while you may have heard a lot of the arguments before, there will be those people for whom they are new. Please be collegiate and welcoming, even if you don't agree - people are much more likely to have their minds changed if you're pleasant.
    Karen Friar
  • Well it seems to me that Ray Ozzie has delivered what he was paid to do and that was to deliver there existing line up across a network distribution methods, as opposed to a off the shelf ones.

    Thus bringing them inline with apple, google, & open source distribution models, and no doubt fulfilling their carbon emission policy agreements, whilst also offering them more flexibility for future net devices.
    CA-aba1d
  • @Brownie - I'm not a big fan of sidebar/task pane interfaces and I'm not sure how innovative they are in Symphony; I didn't like them in Ms Office when they were introduced by Publisher around (if memory serves) 2001 because of how much document you lose when you have two windows side by side, or because of how much more mouse movement there is going to the side rather than up, but I'm never sure how much of that is personal preference. If you had the menu bar and two toolbars open in the previous Office interface, which the vast majority of people do (and many have more eating up screen space like the multiplying toolbars of Acrobat Pro), the ribbon actually takes up about 4 pixels less space - and you can double-click any tab to collapse it up until you want it again without losing the custom arrangement the way you did with toolbars. Add in the custom quick-access toolbar for favourite commands and I think it's just a more logical use of space.

    The File menu I think definitely makes more sense in Office 2010, not least because it's labelled File again and because it's one place to corral all the commands that aren't about editing. I'm genuinely curious as to which of the ribbon tabs in which app you don't find logically arranged - the only one that still stumps me is word count being on the Review tab.
    M
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe