I was fortunate enough to be invited to a blogger lunch with Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie and General Manager of Client and Web Platform & Tools Scott Guthrie. The discussion was mostly developer focused, but right at the end I managed to get a question in about Microsoft's strategy for IE and live.com. I asked Ray what is Microsoft's vision for Live.com and more generally, their IE browser, given that Firefox, Maxthon and other browsers are on the road to becoming "information brokers" - which is the term used by Mozilla to describe the upcoming Firefox 3. The background to this question is that widgets, web services and RSS feeds are now key components of the Web ecosystem, so the browser has a lot of potential to broker all of these services (note: unfortunately I didn't ask the question as elegantly as I just wrote it!).
Ray's answer was that Microsoft is creating a platform for developers to build componentized things like widgets and other web services, but he wasn't able to elaborate on IE's future role in this growing ecosystem - because IE's development plans in that respect are still under wraps. He acknowledged that Firefox is becoming an information broker, saying that this is part of a continued trend in browsers where they are becoming more interactive and writeable. He noted that initially browsers were read-only, but browsers nowadays are able to be written to as well. He also discussed the general trend of componentization, which is basically what is happening with widgets and web services. He said that IE4 was a componentized browser, so this has been a trend for a while in browsers.
Ray also remarked that live.com was at first just a platform for gadgets (a.k.a. widgets), but after it was released they found that live.com's interface was too confusing for ordinary users. So although power users love live.com, they are working at making live.com more of a user-friendly portal than just a loose collection of gadgets/widgets.
Just before the lunch, Ray and Scott were on the main stage being interviewed by Michael Arrington. Dan Farber has a great write-up of that discussion, which discusses Web OS and office software amongst other things.
Scott, Ray, Mike; pic by pxn8
So how is Microsoft's Web Strategy panning out?
From Mike's Q&A and my own lunch with Ray and Scott, I have gotten a better sense of Ray Ozzie's style as Chief Software Architect - the role he took over from Bill Gates last June. Ray Ozzie obviously has a superb handle on technology trends and his 'services vision' has become nicely refined over the past year or so. So I'm impressed by that, although I wish he'd told me specific details about IE's future today at lunch ;-)
Also what we're seeing at MIX this year is that the end products are beginning to show evidence of Ozzie's strategic leadership - e.g. we saw today that Silverlight is a comprehensive web development platform covering the browser and desktop. I haven't mentioned Scott Guthrie much in this post (mainly because his job is to talk specifically to developers, in their language, so a lot of what he says goes over my head!). But the demos of Silverlight-produced apps this morning, which Guthrie compered, were impressive and show that the services strategy coming from Ozzie is starting to show through now in Microsoft's products.
There's a lot to wrap my head around at this conference, but I'll be back later with more coverage.
Update: Ryan Stewart was at the lunch too and his write-up is up now.