Why Ray Ozzie can't save Microsoft

When Ray Ozzie took over as Microsoft's chief software architect in 2006, he was hailed as a visionary who would save Microsoft by bringing it out of the doldrums and into the Internet age. But based on his poor stewardship of the "Live" brand, and Microsoft's ham-handed attempt to take over Yahoo, it's clear he's not the one to save the company. Maybe nobody can.

Ozzie certainly has the smarts and the background to do the job; he was the man behind Lotus Notes and Groove, both of which were groupware pioneers. When Microsoft bought out Ozzie's company Groove Networks in the fall of 2005, and brought him onboard, Ozzie very clearly knew the problems that Microsoft faced.

He wrote a memo warning that Microsoft had to "quickly and decisively" respond to Internet-based software and services, notably the ones being rolled out by Google. "If we fail to do so," he warned, "our business as we know it is at risk."

He was put in charge of the company's Internet push, through its "Live" brand. And now, more than two years later, Microsoft has done such a poor job with the Live brand under Ozzie, and found itself so far behind Google, that it's trying to bail itself out by buying Yahoo. (Note to Microsoft: Adding together two negatives doesn't equal a positive.)

Why has Ozzie failed? Simply put, he's done an exceedingly mediocre job with the Live brand. Rather than being innovative, it's an uninspiring lineup of me-too products that are too late to market, offer far too little to users, and are tied far too heavily to existing Microsoft software such as Office.

Beyond that, the Live brand stands for nothing. It was supposed to have been a brand for Internet-based software and services. If that's the case, why is Windows Live OneCare in it --- OneCare is traditional security software that lives on your computer, and not particularly good, either. OneCare has nothing to do with the Internet.

And how about the entire "Windows Live" brand? Why is the word "Windows" in it, given that the products and services in it have absolutely nothing to do with Windows?

Then there's Microsoft Office Live Small Business, which has absolutely nothing to do with Microsoft Office. And there's Microsoft Office Live Workspace, which isn't directly tied to Microsoft Office Live Small Business, but is tied to Microsoft Office in some ways.

Nowhere, though, will you find a Web-based alternative to Microsoft Office, like Google Docs. That's where the future is. But Ozzie isn't taking Microsoft there.

Ozzie, by all accounts, is one of the prime movers behind the Yahoo takeover bid. But Yahoo won't be able to bail out Microsoft --- after all, Google has been eating its lunch as well.

Ozzie hasn't been able to change the overall outlook and direction of Microsoft. If the Live brand was supposed to compete against Google, it's been a failure. Microsoft remains a company that sells software that lives on people's PCs. That brings it in plenty of revenue today, and for years to come. But ultimately, it's yesterday's business plan.

Ozzie's memo of several years ago was prescient. "Our business as we know it is at risk," he said then. That's true even more so today. And it's because Ozzie has overseen a Live brand that hasn't done a thing to help Microsoft compete.

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