Microsoft’s decision to put Ray Ozzie in charge of software-based services at the company is an interesting move. In an October 2004 Gartner interview, the fifth word out of the Lotus founder’s mouth is “Google.” I don’t find that a coincidence. Microsoft hates Google; that’s no secret. And the collective Microsoft mind seems to fear Google in a way that I’ve never witnessed in 15 years of computer journalism.
In the past, Microsoft would deal with market threats by simply usurping the role of leader in a given space. Office productivity applications, operating systems, Web browsers–the model was the same every time; take the basic software idea, put a bunch of smart, well-paid people on the job, and come out with something better–or if not better, at least easier to market.
But Google is a different situation. While Microsoft was still built for fighting armies-of-coders ground battles, Google long ago took to the air. When’s the last time a Microsoft product made you go “Ohhhh” the way you did the first time you saw GMail or Google Maps or the Google Desktop?
Putting Ozzie in charge at least looks like a step toward hitching some wings to the Microsoft chassis. Ozzie is a Big Thinker who’s all about connectivity and collaboration–two pitches Google has repeatedly knocked out of the ballpark while Microsoft continued to whiff.
The question, of course, is exactly how much of a free hand Ozzie will have. If he has a fantastic idea that only works at the expense of some money-making branch of the Microsoft empire, does that fly or get grounded? We’ll see.