Ray Ozzie's Illustrious IT Career Takes Another Turn

Within minutes of the official Microsoft announcement Thursday that Ray Ozzie has stepped into the role of chief software architect, his official biography at the company website was updated to reflect this latest development in what was already an illustrious IT career.

Ozzie, 50, created IBM’s Lotus Notes and is widely regarded as a pioneer in how computers can be used for collaborative work. Microsoft’s plan is for him to work "side by side" until 2008 with company founder and Chairman Bill Gates, also 50, who turned over the chief software architect’s job to his colleague and good friend.

In July 2008, Gates will leave behind the day-to-day work of Microsoft to focus his attention on philanthropic work through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which he runs with his wife. The foundation has assumed an important global role in health care, including work to eradicate diseases such as malaria and polio, as well as contributing millions of dollars to helping people with AIDS. While the decision to make this career change was "hard," Gates said in a written statement that he believes "the road ahead for Microsoft is as bright as ever."

Ozzie’s presence surely must contribute to Gates’s optimism. When Groove Networks, the company he founded in October 1997, was acquired by Microsoft in April 2005, Ozzie was named chief technical officer to great fanfare. Before founding Groove, Ozzie was founder and president of Iris Associates, where he created and oversaw the early development of Lotus Notes.

Still, Microsoft is going to need the full two-year transition period, as Ozzie is stepping into some big shoes, said Greg DeMichillie, a senior analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash., research firm. "This is the founder leaving, not just a senior executive," he said. "It’s a founder who is uniquely identified with the company."

Gates alone has had the ability to turn Microsoft in a completely new direction. He exercised this ability several times, authoring a memo that pushed the company into the Internet in the mid-1990s and one that sparked the company’s current push toward more secure software.

"It’s not clear to me that a memo from Ray Ozzie will carry that same effect," DeMichillie said. "Ray Ozzie seems to carry weight with the executive staff, but that’s not the same as carrying weight with the tens of thousands of developers that Microsoft has."

Ozzie is not without developer credentials, however.

He played a key role in developing Lotus Symphony, as well as Software Arts’ TKSolver and VisiCalc, and his official Microsoft biography further notes that he also worked on early distributed operating systems at Data General.

He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which has honored him as a distinguished alumnus. It was at the U. of I. that Ozzie is said to have first become intrigued with collaborative systems and how computers can support collaborative work.

-Nancy Weil, IDG News Service (Boston Bureau)

(Robert McMillan, also of the IDG News Service, San Francisco Bureau, contributed to this story.)

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