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Microsoft loses chief software architect Ray Ozzie

Bill Gates replacement finished

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Bill Gates' replacement at Microsoft, Ray Ozzie, is leaving the company after just five years.

Ozzie is stepping down as chief software architect - the jobs Gates last occupied - and will only remain with Microsoft to transition his teams and people to other groups. Ozzie joined Microsoft in 2005 and became chief software architect a year later when Gates' exit from Microsoft was announced.

The chief software architect role will not be filled after Ozzie's exit, chief executive Steve Ballmer has said (warning: PDF) in an email.

No date was given for when Ozzie will leave Microsoft, but before he leaves, Ozzie will also be "focusing his efforts in the broader area of entertainment." Ozzie has no plans beyond this, Ballmer said.

Ballmer didn't say exactly what that meant or whether that involves working on Xbox, Kinect - previously codenamed Project Natal - or Windows Phone.

Microsoft's CEO credited Ozzie with helping to catalyze Microsoft's move to the cloud.

During his time, computing's famously quiet thought leader wrote a memo that's credited with being instrumental in Microsoft's transition toward cloud and software-as-a-service: the Internet Services Disruption memo.

Ballmer enthused that during the last five years, Microsoft has accomplished much, having moved SharePoint and Exchange to the cloud and launched its Windows Azure platform for running applications in the cloud.

Ozzie was a hot hire for Microsoft in 2005, coming on board with the acquisition of his online collaboration start-up Groove Networks. Ozzie became Microsoft's chief technical officer.

Chiefly credited with creating Lotus Notes, a piece of collaborationware Microsoft has spent years trying to eradicate, Ozzie was looked up to by Gates - a rarity for a somebody famously intolerant of others. Ozzie was named Gates' replacement as chief software architect when Microsoft announced a two-year transition for Gates out of Microsoft.

During his time with Microsoft, Ozzie created the team that built Windows Azure, now in the Microsoft's Server and Tools division, and he championed FUSE Labs and its work bringing Office collaboration capabilities online via Facebook via Docs.com.

But Microsoft's chief software architect has never really shone. He's rarely spoken in public to articulate or evangelize a vision to inspire the Windows or .NET faithful.

Ozzie's exit will be seen in mixed tones. On the one hand, it'll be seen as one more mark against a company struggling to regain the position at the vanguard of innovation. Also, further proof Microsoft is unable to attract and retain on a long-term basis talent from outside.

Given Ozzie's low profile, and his status as architect of the less-than-exciting Notes, his exit will likely barely register among many.

Either way, Ozzie's move is as sudden as it is curious: Ballmer's email painted Ozzie's exit as the end of major combat operations in terms of Microsoft having delivered on Ozzie's cloud thinking.

But Ozzie's move begs the questions: who's doing the big technology thinking now, and who will conceive and captain the "three-screens and a cloud" idea Ozzie helped popularize and was so happy to quote? The three screens in this scenario referred to the PC, phone, and TV.

Now we know why Ozzie was recently clearing out his office. ®

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