Microsoft announced today that Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie is stepping down from his position. Although Microsoft does not intend to replace Ozzie, he will assist in transferring his responsibilities during a transition period before focusing on consumer entertainment projects at Microsoft. Ozzie has a long history in enterprise software, having worked for Lotus, IBM, Groove Networks and eventually Microsoft.

Ozzie joined Microsoft in 2005 when the company acquired Groove, which Ozzie co-founded, and turned it into SharePoint Workspaces. Ozzie replaced Bill Gates as Chief Software Architect in 2006. Ozzie shared his cloud-centric view of enterprise collaboration in his now famous Internet Services Disruption memo, pioneered Azure and ran Microsoft's social computing research lab. What does his departure mean for enterprise software?

As the Tanker Turns

Our own Frederic Lardinois wrote recently that the Microsoft Tanker Has Turned and You Ignore it at Your Own Peril. This move by Ozzie could mean one of two things:

  1. The tanker has successfully turned, and Ozzie doesn't see himself as necessary to the process anymore.
  2. The tanker is in a more precarious position than we previously thought, and the captain is abandoning ship.

"It was sad to see Ray leave. His original vision and what Microsoft delivered were becoming more disparate by the day," says R "Ray" Wang of Altimeter Group. "He's truly an innovator and it will be interesting to see where he lands up. His efforts will be best known for getting Microsoft to back Azure and move to the cloud."

"From an Enterprise 2.0 stand point, it's tremendously disappointing to see Ray leave Microsoft," says Sameer Patel of Sovos Group. "With the amazing promise of Groove Networks as a backdrop, I don't believe customers of Microsoft's collaborative tools such as SharePoint got to benefit from his genius in a meaningful way."

Patel says "The true infusion of collaborative constructs into business process to accelerate performance has only begun and Ray's departure cannot be seen as anything but untimely. This has to be a happy day for SharePoint competitors."

Anup Kejriwal, CEO of enterprise collaboration vendor MangoSpring, says he sees Ozzie as more of a threat outside of Microsoft than inside of it.

The Enterprise has Landed

Ray Ozzie at Ray Ozzie at the Web 2.0 Conference 2005, by James Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly Media via Wikipedia

According to his about page, Ozzie got his start in professional programming in 1972. He joined Lotus in 1983 and worked on Lotus 1-2-3 and lead the creation of Lotus Symphony. He left Lotus in 1984 and founded Iris Associates where he created what later became Lotus Notes. Lotus acquired Iris in 1994 and IBM acquired Lotus in 1995. He founded Groove in 1997.

Given this long history in enterprise software, it's understandable that he wants to take a break and work on consumer entertainment focused products (it may be worth noting that there was a recent shake-up in the entertainment division of Microsoft). However, his efforts were crucial to the mainstream adoption of SaaS and cloud migration. Competitors may gain an advantage if Microsoft falters, but everyone is losing a key advocate for cutting edge enterprise products. His absence will likely be felt in the market.

Ross Mayfield, co-founder of SharePoint competitor Socialtext, says "Ray is a true collaboration guru and industry pioneer. I just hope his new role gets him blogging again." As a matter of fact, Ozzie started blogging again recently after a four year absence. It will be interesting to read what he has to say there.