Microsoft's software vision chief embraces future horror
New Bill sees Windows everywhere
Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, is optimistic about Microsoft's future despite the challenge to PC software from cloud services and netbooks.
Speaking at the Churchill Club in Palo Alto, California, on Thursday, Ozzie said we'll continue to need an operating system to abstract the hardware in servers, PCs, and devices that attach to the cloud. According to Ozzie, it's the programming model that's changing, not the need for an actual operating system.
Some cloud evangelists have imagined a virtualized future where operating systems disappear.
Ozzie - who took over the chief architect role from the departing Bill Gates - did indicate that Microsoft might not make as much money from cloud-based services as it does on software. But despite this, Microsoft is investing in completely modular data centers to run its planned Azure cloud and to deliver hosted versions of SharePoint and Exchange. Ozzie predicted Microsoft would have data centers in every country around the world to cater to local regulations
Hesaid Microsoft would need to partner with telcos in these countries to federate the entire Azure infrastructure.
On netbooks, Ozzie reckoned machines are being purchased as inexpensive laptops - meaning opportunity for Windows. That means, PCs not just for web browsing but with people trying to download software, run media, and use applications like Microsoft's Office.
Ozzie also justified Microsoft's decision not to put Windows on ARM, something that emerged  at this week's OEM fest Computex in Taiwan. Ozzie said Windows could run on ARM, but emulation would be needed, and Microsoft is betting on the continuance of x86 architectures from Intel and AMD.
Fightin' talk from Ozzie: old technologies co-exist with the new
It was an energized performance from the usually quiet-spoken Ozzie, who occasionally reacted strongly to what people see as the challenges to Microsoft's traditional PC-based business and the way it is responding. This is nsurprising, perhaps, given that Ozzie is responsible for setting Microsoft's technology direction.
And, if you think Billo's still taking decisions, you'd be wrong. "He writes and calls...he's engaged in the things he wants to," Ozzie said before adding: "He knows he's not accountable for our success any more so he knows not to give orders or anything."
It also sounds like Ozzie has scrapped Billo's famed think weeks, where he invited and consumed white papers from across the company on possible directions while cloistering himself away. A broader senior set of technology individuals are now getting feedback in a "slightly different way" Ozzie said. "We'll see how it pans out."
'Three screens and a PC
The vision that Ozzie said he's setting is for "three screens and a PC" - applications that are able to run or be displayed on a PC, mobile, and TV but link back to the cloud. He believes application code should be cached and sandboxed and data synchronized online through the cloud.
Isn't this a direct threat to Microsoft's core, PC-based business?
Rightly, Ozzie called out Silicon Valley and the tech industry for its fanaticism for "new" at the expense of "existing". And - on this basis - he believes Microsoft has a future.
"Look," a slightly testy father of Lotus Notes told Wired senior writer Steven Levy on stage at the Churchill Club. "As long as I've been in this industry everybody who's got some new technology touts it as being the thing that's going to kill the previous thing. And when it all settles out, the reality is it's the previous thing and the new thing."
Specifically on the future obsolescence of the operating system, Ozzie said we will always need operating systems to abstract the hardware on any device.
"The programming model on top of that operating system is what's changing and the experience on top of that operating system is what's changing. All we have to do is make sure the way we approach the programming model is contemporary and relevant to developers at that moment in time and - yes - that's got to factor in the web.
"There are ways to connect web developers to what's going on in the operating system in ways that haven't been done today without being locked into the browser.
"The question is, if you are a web developer, what might you want to do with [Microsoft] Office or the shell? There are ways of lighting up the web experience and the operating system experience that are much more compelling today. I'm not concerned there's a future" for the operating system.
With netbooks, Ozzie is betting on an x86 Intel and AMD future running the forthcoming Windows 7 rather than ARM as most software runs on the former without the added complexity of emulation. He also doesn't seem to see a single, mass-market ARM-based device emerging to challenge Intel and AMD x86 and the PC model, just the continuation of smaller ARM-based devices.
He also seemed a little puzzled at claims Microsoft's not doing much for netbooks, pointing to the forthcoming release of Windows 7 as a replacement for Windows XP.
"If it [ARM] happens it will be on a different type of device. And there hasn't been a broadly accepted clamshell or device that's not a PC. I'm not writing it off but I'm investing in the future of lots and lot and lots of really nice and expensive and really nice inexpensive laptops," Ozzie said. ®