Ozzie's quiet revolution at Microsoft

Chief software architect Ray Ozzie says nearly everything Microsoft does will include an online services component. Silverlight in action

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, is not one to take extreme views or make outlandish claims. But he is adamantly sure of one thing: a combination of software and online services is the future.

And so far, Ozzie's contention that the industry is going through a disruptive shift from software to services is bearing out.

Desktop software heavyweight Adobe Systems is increasingly introducing online services. Even Web companies like Amazon.com and eBay are building desktop services, like gadgets or applets, to complement their Web services.

Microsoft detractors say that the company has been slow to develop ad-supported Web software because of its fixation on its massive on-premises software business.

But Ozzie says that the transition to software and services is under way and going well. For a taste, take a look at Silverlight Streaming, a service introduced at the Mix '07 conference in Las Vegas where Microsoft will store and stream video clips into Web pages at no cost.

Another key piece to building a services business is creating a platform and tools for programmers. Also at Mix, Microsoft said that .Net developers can build applications for Silverlight, its cross-platform browser plug-in.

Backstage after his keynote speech at Mix on Monday, CNET News.com spoke to Ozzie about the company's ongoing transition from the age of desktop software to a new era.

Q: Silverlight is deliberately cross-platform. We also see Microsoft supporting standards and participating a bit in open source. It looks like Microsoft is trying hard to be more than just a Windows company. Is that part of your agenda, or am I reading into it?
Ozzie: Well, Microsoft is a Windows company--it actually is the Windows company. We have a really strong platform in Windows--it's in use by a lot of people, it will be in use by a lot of people. Hopefully, more and more people (will use it) because Windows Mobile has reached an inflection point.

Microsoft's Ray Ozzie and Scott Guthrie show off some key features of the new application for Web developers.

I don't necessarily think that it would be accurate to characterize the increasing openness as a backing away from Windows. I think what it is is a reflection that Windows is in a broader technology environment. Just count the number of devices that are out there right now, count the number of people who use browsers in a variety of situations where it's not just their PC--they might be somewhere else. These are some areas that are very relevant, and if we did not have tools and platforms that serve all those things, then it's like a self-imposed exile. We're essentially reaching out to where the audience is.

It's a nonstarter for something purporting to serve people building Web apps to not let them reach the broadest possible audience. Because generally ad-supportive business models need to get to as many people as possible. Of course, we believe that our things will show best on our platforms. But we also want to go to where they (our audience) are.

Walking out of the keynote, I heard some people wondering whether Microsoft products like Silverlight will really work on the Internet or just inside company networks. You talk about Mac support today, but what about Linux? Let's just start with Silverlight on the Mac--is it going to be on par with what's on Windows?
Ozzie: Yes...I'm extremely serious about the fact that when you are developing for the universal Web (browsers for a range of devices), you can't think about what platform the user is running on. It could be on the phone, it could be on a PlayStation portable--do they have a browser on that? I don't know. It could be something that you don't even know what the platform is and we have to take that very seriously. We also want to make Windows the best possible platform for rich applications. So my guidance to the (Microsoft development) teams would be: look at the audience, where is the audience, and prioritize the development for Silverlight based on where the audience is. And we are investing that way.

It's not religious--let's just put it that way. To the extent we look at the audience for a given (Linux) distribution, given OS, whatever. And if it's a material thing, we'll prioritize it.

On services, is the Silverlight Streaming service something that we can expect to see more of from Microsoft?
Ozzie: Yes, you'll definitely see more. It's an example of where we can take advantage of our investments in infrastructure...(With) Windows update and our online services, we get great economies of scale, we build a data center infrastructure, we drive storage costs extremely low. So this is one good example of a service that helps the Silverlight developer--especially the "tail" developer. People that are at the head like an MLB or a Netflix (two Microsoft customers that showed off at Silverlight applications on Monday), they are big companies. They can negotiate their own agreements with content delivery networks. For most small app developers--this is a very complicated thing. And they won't be prepared for the spikes in usage if they achieve their dream at being successful.

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