Bill Gates' successor predicts death of PC

Ray Ozzie sees major shift in platform toward handhelds driven by SAAS, clouds

In a farewell blog dated two days from now, futurist/technologist Ray Ozzie, who took over as chief software architect from Bill Gates in 2008 predicted a 'post-PC world' that has already begun with the spreading popularity of tablets, smartphones, SAAS and cloud-based applications.

This is the guy who pushed Microsoft toward cloud/SAAS beginning with his Internet Services Disruption memo in 2005, shortly after joining the company.

Over a 31-year career in the technology business, Ozzie worked with or for some of the most influential peole in the business -- Jonathan Sachs, Dan Bricklin, Mitch Kapor, helping along the way to develop the first real application suite, Lotus Symphony, and form a couple of his own companies.

At Microsoft he also founded the Future Social Experiences labs to focus on social networking dynamics.

His is not a record of pure, clear vision and success, however. Despite his vision of the Cloud network, and the separate Azure platform, Ozzie has had limited success moving Microsoft into a dominant position in it. Key reasons include the conflict between Microsoft's one-license, one-machine business model, its dependence on revenue from Windows and Office, and its dependence on the enormous network of VARs and resellers with which Microsoft would be competing if it offered its products directly as SAAS subscriptions online.

There were mistakes and cruel developments in Ozzie's technology past as well.

He was largely responsible for the development of Lotus Notes, which was revolutionary in its day, but clunky and painful for end users almost from the moment it was deployed. A database pretending to be an email system, Notes had trouble sending email across anything but its own network until long into the Internet era, Lotus has been revamped and reconfigured innumerable times since the original concept.

Ozzie was also responsible for Groove Networks and the unavoidable Groove component of Microsoft Office 2007, in which it took up space, reinstalled itself every time Office needed repairing, and took up space while religiously refusing to do anything useful to help its user communicate -- which was its titular purpose.

Ozzie lamented in his final blog that not all the opportunities he laid out in his cloud memo had been fully realized, partly because competitors had been more effective in building and fusing mobile hardware software and services into a usable whole. I think he was talking about Apple and Google there.

Microsoft didn't make as much progress toward cloud platforms as Ozzie might have liked, either. Just this week it introduced cloud versions of its Exchange, SharePoint and Lync applications, aiming more at end users than at developers that would build more applications to run on Microsoft products than Microsoft ever could itself. That's the strategy that built Microsoft, and the one Amazon put into effect this week, about the same time Office 365 was vastly underwhelming the IT community.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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