Ozzie wants a 'unified story' at Microsoft

Groove Networks founder Ray Ozzie knows exactly what he wants to do to improve Office--and Windows.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
6 min read
If all goes as planned, Ray Ozzie will soon be a Microsoft employee.

Ozzie and Microsoft's top brass on Thursday announced the sale of Groove Networks to the software giant. As part of the deal, Ozzie--the founder of Groove and the inventor of Lotus Notes--will become one of Microsoft's three chief technical officers. The acquisition is expected to close in the second quarter.

The move seems to fit a pattern in Ozzie's career: He started Iris Associates in 1984 to make Notes. Iris was sold to Lotus, which was later acquired by IBM. In 1997, Ozzie founded Groove and closely aligned his work with that of Microsoft, a Groove investor, all of which makes the acquisition no great surprise to industry watchers.

Ozzie has been one the most influential programmers working with collaboration software for information workers. The Groove software, therefore, will be sold as a component of Microsoft's Office lineup of productivity applications. And as a Microsoft CTO, Ozzie thinks he can make his mark in both Office and Windows.

He spoke to CNET News.com about his upcoming role at Microsoft and about how he hopes to influence the software giant's future direction.

Why did you sell Groove to Microsoft?
Ozzie: From my standpoint, I build software to have a big impact on customers--that's the point of all this. Looking at my past, I was really happy when Notes was able to scale up because of pouring in resources of a larger company (IBM).

In the case of Groove, Microsoft's position across a number of markets--enterprise, government and particularly small business--there's a lot of opportunity we never could have achieved.

As a Microsoft chief technology officer, will you remain focused on collaboration? Chairman Bill Gates mentioned some other areas--such as authentication, encryption and peer-to-peer--where you could contribute. Do you want to reach beyond the Office group and make an impact on the operating system and perhaps other areas?
Ozzie: Certainly beyond Office. Most of what I do and have done to date in my whole career has been focused on what Microsoft refers to as "information work." And the majority of the products in that realm are in (group vice president) Jeff Raikes' Information Worker group. But there are pieces that are not, like Exchange--that's part of the Windows organization.

I think everyone would like a unified story and deliverables to support those across the organization. There are aspects of what we built, however, that have a platform flavor to them.

I think what Bill is referring to is that some of those technologies, particularly security, have more general applicability than the general collaboration offerings. It's too soon to know or discuss what the specific impact will be, but I will be working with the platform group to see (how) those things that we've done can be generalized.

Can you give me an idea of what a more peer-to-peer, savvy operating system might do?
Ozzie: Let me do that by a simple example. One of the functions of the current Groove offerings is a thing we refer to is as Groove Folder Synchronization. Right from the Windows Explorer on any folder, you

My role is not well-defined...but I know exactly what they want me to do.
can just right-click on it, and it turns that folder into a synchronized...work space, where multiple people can work from a folder on your computer to a folder on their computer.

From the user's perspective, that's integrated into the operating system. And that's natural for people. I can't comment on where things will go in the future, but from a user's perspective how these technologies (are) applied at the operating system can be very useful.

Do you think your role as one of the company's three chief technology officers is very well-defined right now?
Ozzie: The funny thing is that it's not well-defined, from the ability to explain it, but I know exactly what they want me to do.

Having dealt with Microsoft for a number of years, I'm very familiar with their organization, and how decisions are made, and how things are built and get shipped. I think we both have specific ideas about how I can help to make a positive impact.

It's not as easy to explain, and as with any complex environment, you can oversimplify. That's why even if you look at the press release, it says "responsibility to influence the communications and collaboration offerings" and so on. There's a lot in those words. Because you don't

make a difference from the top in a big organization without effectively influencing them. Things don't happen necessarily by control. So we'll see how it pans out.

Well, you're not a product manager.
Ozzie: That's right. I don't have those organizations reporting to me. Jeff (Raikes) and Jim (Allchin) are two of the group vice presidents who have a lot of people reporting to them. I've more of a staff role to Bill.

Presumably, you'll be giving some direction on where products should be headed or trends that the company should take hold of--almost an advisory role?
Ozzie: Presumably, but I haven't written up the job description yet (laughs).

You've done a lot of proselytizing around the notion that the way people work is changing--that they increasingly collaborate across geographically dispersed groups, and so on. Do you think the people at Microsoft, like Jeff Raikes, see things the same way you do? About how the work force is changing?
Ozzie: I think the higher up in the organization, the more they see things as we do?The nature of the IT systems that we have built are increasingly toward the (regulatory) compliance side but not about effectively reaching out of the organization. And there's an increasingly parallel view (at Microsoft) because of customers, because this is a real need.

What do you intend to tell Microsoft employees? What's your message to them going in, as one of the three CTOs?
Ozzie: Honestly, I haven't given it that much thought. If I had to, it'd be, "What can I offer you from 20 years of some success and many mistakes?" You learn from your mistakes.

Until now, you've been selling Groove software mainly to smaller work groups of people. Do you think that there will be a shift in how you sell, perhaps to larger organizations?
Ozzie: The nature of what (we) do is dynamically serving small work groups?(But) this (acquisition) will clearly, over time, increase the potential for larger opportunities than Groove Networks ourselves, with our limited resources, could attack.

Can you tell me about how it came together?
Ozzie: There isn't a great story about some cool, catalyzing event. We've been in touch with each other for quite a while. I first showed the product to Bill (Gates) back in '97.

We've been working together in various ways over the years. The timing is mostly relevant in two dimensions. No. 1, Groove has

At a larger organization, you have the potential for a broader impact.
reached a certain level of maturity. We just shipped (Groove Virtual Office) 3.1.

And No. 2, from the Microsoft side, it should be clear that they have taken on communications and collaboration as what's beyond personal productivity. And it's taking the forefront in their offerings. I think them seeing how we uniquely solve a certain set of problems in the realm of cross-organizational and mobile usage fills out their product offerings quite nicely.

What kind of adjustments do you see working within Microsoft--a much larger organization--where you'll be working at least part-time from the other coast?
Ozzie: There will be adjustments. I've been going back and forth between small and large. Iris was small. IBM was large. Groove was small. I think the trade-off (is) as a small company you have much more direct interaction with customers and partners, and you can focus all of your energy on executing one thing extremely well. At a larger organization, you have the potential for a broader impact, but probably a little shallower?I look forward to having a broader impact in the larger context.

Bill Gates was clearly excited when he talked about how happy he was about your coming on board. What are your feelings about working with him and others at Microsoft?
Ozzie: I look forward to being part of that leadership team. (It's) a lot of very smart people, and that's what makes it fun to come to work.

When do you start, and how often will you be in Redmond, Wash., as opposed to in Massachusetts?
Ozzie: I'll start when the merger closes. We don't anticipate it's going to be very long--probably in the second quarter. At that point in time, I'm going to try to average half time out there and half time out here. I don't have a lot of firm viewpoints beyond that. The use of collaboration tools we expect to be pretty intense. And it's going to be a positive learning experience for both them and us.