My lunch with Ray Ozzie and Scott Guthrie

I was part of a small group that got to have lunch with Ray Ozzie and Scott Guthrie in an informal setting. We got free reign to ask questions and in the process I got some insight into the DLR and Microsoft's RIA strategy.

Ray Ozzie

Jeff Sandquist of Microsoft set up a lunch for a few of us with Scott Guthrie and Ray Ozzie here at Mix07. It was a great group of people including Richard MacManus (his thoughts on the lunch are up here), Walt Ritscher, Lee Brimelow, Evan Williams, Lynda Weinman, and a couple of other people. Overall it was a great session, we started off on some developer-centric conversation and then went into strategy with Ray.

I asked about the inclusion of the Dynamic Language Runtime, something Scott announced during his part of the keynote and something that garnered a bit of attention. I asked Scott what strategic point of it was and whether or not their developer base had been clamoring for the ability to write Ruby against the CLR. The answer to the second was 'not really'. It's compelling for them, but wasn't a huge draw. The answer to the first was that Microsoft wants to bring as many people as possible into the CLR and give them the freedom to choose what language they want. That's a good story, and I'm curious to see what the end result. Evan Williams, the creator of Twitter, one of the most popular Ruby applications out there said it was going to be great for his team because they could build a Silverlight application on top of Twitter using the same skillset they used to build Twitter itself.

The strategy questions were more interesting. In particular when Lee Brimelow asked Scott whether or not we could see an Apollo-type desktop client for Silverlight now that the CLR runs on Mac. Scott said no, but that precipitated a conversation about "in browser" experiences and "out of browser" experiences (I'm not sure Ray or Scott totally get Apollo). Ray said there is a lot of discussion within Microsoft about what applications should run in the browser and how important close ties to the operating system were for big applications. His insight here was excellent, as the founder of Lotus Notes, he talked about how they tried to create an "abstraction layer" so that they could be cross platform. He said focusing on that abstraction layer made them mediocre on all platforms. With WPF Microsoft gives developers a sandbox with all the trappings of a full desktop application, something users know and understand. With browser applications, he said that the model was a bit restrictive for full applications and said Silverlight will focus on enhancing the web experience and not trying to replicate the desktop. There was some talk of Apollo, but as I said, Ray didn't quite seem to grasp that Apollo applications are really desktop experiences with the ties that he mentioned being important. It will be interesting to see how that plays out between Adobe and Microsoft.

This was my first chance to actually chat and listen to Ray in a closer setting. I was really impressed. I think he really believes in the Rich Internet Application space, even if the implementation of the applications differs. I think it's going to be a good contrast for developers who are looking at the various RIA offerings. Flash and Silverlight aren't clones of each other. In many ways, they differ in their approach to enhancing the web.