Ray Ozzie's dream of connectivity

In an in-depth profile, Steven Levy traces Ray Ozzie's journey from his undergrad days to his assumption of Bill Gates' software czar responsibilities at Microsoft.

Steven Levy writes about Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie in the latest issue of Wired. The nearly 7,000-word profile doesn't offer many new revelations about the software-plus-services or cloud-computing efforts that Ozzie is leading at Microsoft, but it provides a vivid portrait of Ozzie's path from the University of Illinois in 1973 to taking over Bill Gates' software czar responsibilities in 2005.

Ray Ozzie has been on a software journey since his college days at the University of Illinois to fulfill a dream of connectivity. Wired, CNET

Following is an excerpt from Levy's profile characterizing the Gates-Ozzie relationship:

Ozzie left IBM and founded a startup called Groove Networks, which made collaborative software. Released in 2001, the Groove app was terrific technology, with peer-to-peer transmission and superstrong crypto built in. But the postbubble timing was awful, and Ozzie realized that the company couldn't make it on its own.

The obvious move was to sell to Microsoft, which had already invested some $50 million in Groove. For Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer, however, getting the technology was just a bonus; the real treasure was its founder. Gates had once described Ozzie as "one of the top five programmers in the universe." Former Groove employees still talk about the time Gates visited and the two leaders got off on a tangent about some arcane technical point. As they bounced improvisations off each other, Ozzie coming up with ideas and Gates rocking back and forth with excitement, it was like watching some propellerhead version of a John Coltrane-Miles Davis performance. Ozzie wouldn't be just a great hire--he would be the hire, the one person qualified to be a partner to Gates and Ballmer in revivifying Microsoft.

In the profile, Ozzie addresses the standard rap on Microsoft -- that it wants to re-create its Windows dominance in the cloud through the use of proprietary standards:

Eric Schmidt, CEO of that G-word company, says that because Microsoft has so much market share in servers and operating systems, the Redmondites will certainly be big players in cloud computing. He sees it as an extension of Microsoft's nasty behavior in the '90s. "Microsoft's basic strategy is to gain enough share in cloud computing to force other people to use its standards," he says. (By contrast, Google has blessed an open source version of its cloud technology, which both IBM and Yahoo have adopted.) Ozzie doesn't buy the charge. "Google and Microsoft have the same basic philosophy. We're basing our cloud on Windows technologies because they're great technologies and we have a lot of higher-level services on them. If you want to write open source stuff on them, you can do that."

One of Ozzie's major challenges to is create a more open and flexible Microsoft, a company that can compete on a more level playing field.

Mitch Kapor, the former head of Lotus Software, where Ozzie's team created Notes, sums up Ozzie's lifelong quest:

To Ozzie, software's soul does not lie in the accumulation of features. Instead, it lies in his dream of connectivity. "Live Mesh is very Ray," Mitch Kapor says. "It's the son of Groove, which is the son of Notes." Which was, of course, the son of Ozzie's beloved Plato. Thirty-three years later, Ozzie is still trying to build on what he saw in sophomore year. But it's no longer the Ray Ozzie vision. It's Microsoft's.
 

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