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Was Ozzie's head in the clouds as rivals stole his role?

Ray out redeployed - MS execs go pale

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Ray Ozzie's unexpected departure from his role as chief software architect does not look good for Microsoft, not least because it follows a series of other high-level departures.

It follows Microsoft Business Division president Stephen Elop's move to become CEO of Nokia last month, and the retirement of entertainment and devices execs Robbie Bach and J Allard announced earlier this year.

Are rattled execs smelling the coffee?

Ozzie's case is different, especially as he is not leaving Microsoft just yet. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says, oddly, that Ozzie will now be "focusing his efforts in the broader area of entertainment". This is a bizarre move for someone who was supposedly guiding the entire company's software architecture.

Why "supposedly"? My guess is that the key reason for his step down is to be found in this announcement from December 2009, which records the move of the Windows Azure team from under Ray Ozzie to Bob Muglia's server and tools business.

Ray Ozzie announced Azure at the company's PDC 2008 conference, but it remained a lacklustre and confusing project for some time. Muglia's expanded division has done a better job of positioning what now seems to be a solid cloud platform.

Another project closely associated with Ozzie is Live Mesh, launched in April 2008. Live Mesh was not just a synchronisation service, but a development platform with an API. In a widely leaked memo, Ozzie described the Web as "the hub of our social mesh and our device mesh", with the device mesh central to his vision of connected productivity. Mesh proved to be a poor development platform, and the API was later withdrawn. Live Mesh was scaled down, and is now folded into Windows Live Essentials, an internet services add-on for Windows.

The positive spin on this would be that, having nurtured Azure and passed it into good hands, there was little more for Ozzie to do. The negative spin would be that Ozzie's vision of synchronisation at the heart of Microsoft's cloud has failed to capture hearts and minds either within or outside the company. If that is the case, then Ozzie's demotion merely formalises what was happening anyway - that execs other than Ozzie were shaping the company's software architecture, if there is such a thing.

That makes this a healthy change for Microsoft, though it raises the question of who is the person of vision who can guide this huge company's strategy? Judging by his public appearances, CEO Steve Ballmer is no more the right person for the task than Ozzie proved to be. ®

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