Ozzie: Open source a more disruptive competitor than Google

Google has nothing on open source when it comes to potential competitive threats to Microsoft, according to Redmond's Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie.

Google has nothing on open source when it comes to potential competitive threats to Microsoft, according to Redmond's Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie.

Ozzie fielded a number of questions on his role at Microsoft and the company's evolving technology strategies during an appearance at the Sanford Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference on May 28. (I listened to his session via the Webcast.)

Ozzie reiterated that it often takes a strong competitor to truly galvanize Microsoft.

"Microsoft has built up a culture of crisis," Ozzie told conference attendees.

Competitors like his former employer, Lotus, and now, Google, have spurred the company to make changes to its business to stay ahead, Ozzie said. But while Google is a "tremendously strong competitor," Ozzie acknowledged, "open source was much more potentially disruptive" to Microsoft's business. (He noted that, unlike Google, many open-source programmers aren't beholden to shareholders.)

Ozzie said that competing with open source "made Microsoft a much stronger company." He cited changes Microsoft has made to its business model -- such as focusing on making its closed-source software interoperable with open-source products -- as directly attributable to that competition.

During the rest of his hour-long talk, Ozzie focused on many of his favorite topics, such as the need for a mesh for devices and people (Live Mesh) and the importance of giving customers choice (with Software+Services, rather than a 100% cloud-services approach). A few other tidbits from his remarks that I found interesting:

* The changing nature of the operating system in an increasingly services-based world. Ozzie noted that if a new operating system were designed today, it wouldn't be a single piece of software that operates a single computer. It would be something that could accommodate multiple devices, with the user at the center. That sounds like Live Mesh -- but perhaps he was also hinting about Microsoft's post-Windows, distributed operating system I keep hearing rumors about... * Yahoo as an "accelerator." Ozzie deftly deflected questions about Microsoft's on-again/off-again deal-making with Yahoo. "Yahoo was not a strategy unto itself," he said. "It was an accelerator to the ad platform." Ozzie spoke highly of Yahoo's work in the social-networking and community space, adding that these kinds of services represented the next wave in communications technology. He also pooh-poohed any notion that Microsoft might be wavering on its commitment to being an online player. "We are very, very serious about the online space," he said. * Programming tools that work across a variety of devices. At the very end of his remarks, Ozzie made a passing reference to the need for not just programming tools and services that can accommodate multi-core/many-core systems, but also tools that can work across a variety of devices. He noted that there's a need for development tools for building software that works across multiple devices. A reference to the Live Mesh Software Development Kit (SDK), expected to debut at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in late October? Perhaps....