Ozzie's 'doomsday' memo warns Microsoft of post-PC days

Analyst, and former Microsoft employee, parses Ray Ozzie's departing clarion call

Departing Microsoft executive Ray Ozzie's just-published memo is a "doomsday-ish" missive that calls on the company to push further into the cloud or perish, an industry analyst said today.

Ozzie, who replaced Bill Gates as Microsoft's chief software architect in 2006, is leaving the company, although Microsoft has not disclosed the date of his departure.

His "Dawn of a New Day" memorandum, which was dated Oct. 28, is an attempt to focus Microsoft's attention on the day when PCs will no longer rule consumer or business computing, said Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash. research firm that specializes in tracking Microsoft.

Miller worked for Microsoft from 1998 to 2004, in both the MSN and Windows groups.

Tag cloud
A tag cloud of Ray Ozzie's memo shows the emphasis he put on devices and services.

"If you do a tag cloud of the memo, you'll see he rarely mentions the words PC or Windows," said Miller. A tag cloud is a visual representation of the words that appear most often in a document or on a Web site. "The words that are most prominent," Miller noted, "are devices and services, and that shows that Ozzie believes the future will revolve around connected devices and continuous services."

In a nutshell, continued Miller, Ozzie's memo spells out the time when the PC -- the foundation of Microsoft's 35-year-old business, particularly its lucrative Windows franchise -- has been replaced by a slew of simple, low-cost devices that are constantly connected to the Internet, and through that, to cloud-based services.

"There's one key difference in tomorrow's devices," wrote Ozzie. "They're relatively simple and fundamentally appliance-like by design, from birth. They're instantly usable, interchangeable, and trivially replaceable without loss."

The communique is in many ways reminiscent of the one Ozzie published in 2005 shortly after joining Microsoft, in which he warned that the company needed to jump on the cloud. And it's a continuation of what he has tried to do at Microsoft since his arrival.

"Ray has become synonymous with connected collaboration and the cloud," Miller argued, citing Azure as Ozzie's biggest success at Microsoft. "He's fought the valiant fight at Microsoft, but he's saying the company needs to continue investing in the cloud."

While Ozzie acknowledged rivals' successes in moving toward his worldview, he didn't name names. "Our early and clear vision notwithstanding, their execution has surpassed our own in mobile experiences, in the seamless fusion of hardware & software & services, and in social networking & myriad new forms of Internet-centric social interaction," Ozzie said.

Ozzie didn't have to specifically name Apple, Google or Facebook to get his message across to Microsoft's executives, said Miller, adding, "They know who he's talking about."

Miller said that Ozzie's note seemed "doomsday-ish" to him, but the concern is warranted. "He's telling Microsoft that it needs to look forward or you're not going to own the market in the future," Miller said. "He's trying to get Microsoft to start thinking about a day when the hegemony of Windows is a thing of the past."

To do that, Ozzie said Microsoft must stress simplicity over complexity, and he essentially said that the 25-year-old Windows and its surrounding ecosystem was an example of the latter.

"Complexity kills," said Ozzie. "Complexity sucks the life out of users, developers and IT. Complexity makes products difficult to plan, build, test and use. Complexity introduces security challenges. Complexity causes administrator frustration."

Miller agreed. "Microsoft needs to focus on simplicity," he said.

But turning around Microsoft won't be easy. It's a huge company, with revenues and inertia to match.

"My frustration is that it's a big ship, and the velocity with which the boat is going will make it hard," Miller said. "You're talking about competing with companies that are, if not out-innovating Microsoft, then out-pacing them."

It's unlikely Ozzie's words came as a surprise to people at the top of Microsoft's organizational chart. "This may be the last chance for Ray Ozzie to make his thoughts known, but I think he's said this internally for a long time. It fits with everything he's been doing at Microsoft," Miller said.

Miller was hopeful that Ozzie's words would find fertile ground. "My hope is that it brings some soul-searching to Microsoft," Miller said. "I can't imagine someone at Microsoft not walking away from this without thinking that Ray's right."

But he was also realistic. "From my time at Microsoft, it totally depends on the individual executive whether this is accepted," he concluded.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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