Analysis: After Gates, the new world of Oz

Microsoft is officially handing its future to Ray Ozzie, who is replacing Bill Gates as the company's chief software architect. Over the next two years, Gates will be giving up his responsibilities to Ozzie and Craig Mundie. But it's Ozzie who gets the role of chief software architect (CSA), the most significant of the jobs Gates is relinquishing.

There will be plenty of time between now and 2008 to lament (or cheer) the departure of Gates' day-to-day involvement at Microsoft. His contributions to the industry are legendary and we'll hear much of them in the coming months. It's Ozzie who is in the spotlight now and deserves our attention. IT professionals are anxiously waiting to see what he will do to affect change in Microsoft's data center, desktop and Internet strategies.

And we can expect change. Big change.

That's because Ozzie has no emotional stake in Windows and its DOS underpinnings. They're not his babies as they have been Gates'. He'll be less reluctant to to perform radical surgery on Microsoft's operating system than his predecessor. He'll also be more inclined to adopt standards more quickly -- as opposed to Microsoft's history of "improving" standards by breaking them and then offering proprietary alternatives that are "better."

That's not Ozzie's history. He's a proponent of collaboration (as befits the inventor of Lotus Notes), which in our new Web-based world demands a rigid adherence to standards.

He's also a big believer in Software as a Service (SaaS). The SaaS model intrigues him and we'll be seeing even more from Microsoft under his direction. Again, it takes a commitment to standard to play in the SaaS world.

What Ozzie has not heretofore shown interest in is open source over Microsoft's proprietary approach. But I suspect there may be some thawing between the two camps since for Microsoft to succeed in the cooperative world of the Internet, open source is a force the company needs to acknowledge and even embrace, if not actually participate as a major contributor.

Ozzie's enormous technical credibility inside Microsoft means he won't merely push for change, he'll make it happen. What precisely he'll do, he hasn't said. And he doesn't have the explicit power of the CSA yet, since he still reports to Gates. But I'll wager IT users will find the next generation of Ozzie-led Microsoft tools of equally high quality, but far better and easier to integrate into their corporate environments.

Three cheers for the new world of Oz.

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