Ozzie, Mundie pick up tech mantle at Microsoft

newsmakers Executives Ray Ozzie and Craig Mundie talk to CNET News.com about how they plan to fill Gates' shoes.

REDMOND, Wash.--Bill Gates leaves some pretty big shoes to fill.

Think of Ray Ozzie as the left shoe and Craig Mundie as the right one.

As Gates announced his plans Thursday to begin the process that will see him eventually cease full-time work at Microsoft, he also announced that he was dividing much of his technical leadership responsibility among the two software veterans, both of whom have been serving as chief technical officers.

Craig Mundie, a longtime Microsoft veteran, will now handle the company's research units and will serve as Microsoft's external voice on technology.

The more prominent role, as chief architect, is being given to Ray Ozzie, the software industry legend behind Lotus Notes. Ozzie, though, is a relative newcomer to Microsoft, having joined the company last year, following Microsoft's acquisition of Groove Networks. Already, though, Ozzie has emerged as a key figure at the software giant, having been handed the reins for the company's all-important Live services push.

On Thursday, Ozzie and Mundie spent a few minutes with CNET News.com outlining how they plan to take over for Gates.

Q: Ray, Obviously you've spent the bulk of your time recently architecting the services strategy. Does this expanded role change your thinking in any way?
Ozzie: The great thing about taking on the services strategy as a particular initiative to hang my hat on over the last six to eight months is that it has brought me in touch with many different parts of the organization. Every offering that we have in the company in some way, shape or form is going to be touched by services. It's been more or less a platform for getting to know people and getting to know projects and so on. So, because of this, I've got these relationships. In terms of expanding the responsibility, there are a number of architectural issues that groups have that are not related to services. There are, for example, platform issues that span beyond (services). There is storage strategy and presentation strategy and things like that that I will become much more involved in.

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Are you going to be primarily trying to finish work on the services initiative that's just getting started?
Ozzie: That's right, and there is no end to it. It's a shift in the company's direction from primarily being focused on client and client and server to now client, server and service.

Are you going to still be the primary person responsible for services strategy?
Ozzie: Absolutely.

How soon do you expect you'll be looking at things like the future of Windows, and all the things that probably are classified as services but are not services?
Ozzie: Well, for each product, it occurs actually at different times. So, for example, the Windows and Office are just about to ship, and so when they enter their next planning cycles is the most significant time for them. Mobility has a different case. They have different ship dates. Every six months, they have some new release that goes to operators or manufacturers. So with that product line, there are many more opportunities for getting engaged, and reasons for getting engaged, obviously. The same on the Windows Live and on the MSN side--those have a much greater ship frequency, and I'm already engaged on that side in a number of different specific engagements.

When did Bill and CEO Steve Ballmer approach you about this role? What do you see as the biggest draw and the biggest concern?
Ozzie: Well, my company was acquired about a year ago. Craig and I and a number of the senior staff around that time were brought in on the notion that succession was becoming more relevant in Steve's mind...a lot of what actually happened with having division presidents was beginning to swirl in his mind in that realm, and I think we, in the discussions, knew that we played some kind of a role. But it was more ambiguous.

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Around this last board retreat in March, it became a lot more concrete in terms of what roles we might play and the timeframe within which Bill would be making a decision. And the decision was made this past Tuesday.

Craig, as chief technical officer, have you been doing some of those chief architect-like duties?
Mundie: My transition is sort of straightforward in a sense. The only thing I was doing that he's doing--it turns out, the last eight years I've been pretty much Bill's partner in both the engagement with research and in doing a lot of the issues around intellectual property and policy. So, in a way, I feel like Bill will, over the next year, pass the baton completely, starting with management accountability for those functions. But we were pretty closely aligned for a long time now because of my involvement with those areas. So, for me, it's adding another responsibility, but the areas are ones that Bill and I have been closely aligned with in the past already.

Microsoft Research does incredible things, and yet Microsoft gets most of its revenue from the same places that it's gotten most of its revenue for a long time--Office and Windows. Do you see a need to change the research effort in any way to make it a driver for the business?
Mundie: We're fortunate by any accounting of research efficacy to have really a tremendous (technology) transfer, and if you look, a huge part of the tech transfer has actually been into the mainline products.

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