On Monday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced to employees that the company's Chief Software Architect, Ray Ozzie, would be retiring after four years in the position. (He had joined the company a year earlier.) Ozzie guided Microsoft's transition to so-called cloud computing but is also widely criticized for creating a rudderless technology vacuum at the software giant. His departure from the company won't be widely felt, but his eventual replacement could have long-term ramifications for Microsoft.
"We've accomplished much in the past five years as we look at the cloud and services," Ballmer wrote in an open letter to Microsoft employees. "Ray helped ensure we have a tremendously rich platform foundation that will enable app-level innovation across the company and by customers for years to come."
No reason was given for Ozzie's departure, and it's possible the 55-year-old executive could turn up elsewhere. But the timing is suspect, given the many other Microsoft executives that have left (or been forced out of) the company lately. And Ozzie just started blogging again, days ago, after months of silence—an odd move given this "transition." (Ozzie's attempts at blogging have been sporadic at best over the years.)
Early on, it seemed that Ozzie would be a respectable replacement for outgoing Chief Software Architect and industry pioneer Bill Gates. In 2005, he penned an "Internet Services Disruption" memo that jumpstarted Microsoft's cloud efforts, (maybe too) similar to the decade-earlier Gates memo, "Internet Tidal Wave," that jumpstarted the company's initial Internet work.
Since then, however, Ozzie has been pretty quiet, and he seemed to have retreated largely to an undisclosed location, presumably inside Microsoft's Redmond campus. Behind the scenes, he championed projects like Live Mesh and helped create the team responsible for Windows Azure.
While recognized as a world-class programmer, Ozzie is often criticized for seemingly having one good idea—decentralized group computing—and then reproductizing it again and again, first as Lotus Notes, then as Groove, and then at Microsoft as Live Mesh and SharePoint Workspaces.
Ballmer noted in his email to employees that Ozzie would stay with the company for an undetermined time but that he's stepping down from the Chief Software Architect role to "focus his efforts in the broader area of entertainment," whatever that means. Microsoft has nothing to say about a possible successor. My recommendation is to go with someone younger: Think Google Generation, not Microsoft Generation.