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As Microsoft's chief software architect, he is Bill Gates' designated heir. And he's the guy running the Microsoft "Live" move into services, the initiative that CEO Steve Ballmer dubbed the company's top priority.
Ozzie, almost as well known for being a nice guy as for his technical talents, has moved into a company known for intergroup dynamics often likened to knife-fighting. It remains an open question as to how this soft-spoken man will fare with a CEO who has reportedly thrown chairs, pounded on walls and blown out his vocal chords. While Microsoft denies the chair-throwing rumors, insiders argue over whether Ozzie's team-builder approach will be able to meld the Redmond, Wash., company's famously fractious factions.
When Ozzie was named chief software architect in June, some wondered whether he could spark the transformation Microsoft needed. Gates was already spending a lot of time on philanthropy, the company's sluggish stock had Wall Streeters questioning the company's management, and Ozzie, at age 50—the same age as Ballmer and Gates—was not exactly the young blood that some thought was needed. The Google guys, in contrast, were in their early 30s.
Microsoft's move into services was undoubtedly sparked by Google envy. But while Microsoft might concede that Google's services-in-the-cloud model will attract many consumers and some small businesses, it would also argue few companies of any size will trust all of their data to computing machines beyond their reach. Microsoft is banking on businesses wanting a range of on- and off-premise servers and services.
It's a compelling argument, but Microsoft execs still seem Google-spooked. Google's ad-supported services and its spare interface are the toast of financial types, news junkies and Web surfers everywhere. To these people, Microsoft now looks very old school. Says one former IBM colleague of Ozzie's new gig: "I think they're setting him up to take the fall."
That kind of thinking prompts a loud laugh from George Moromisato, who started working with Ozzie just after Notes 1.0, was employee "five or six" at Ozzie's post-IBM startup Groove Networks, and is now Ozzie's director of user experience. He says people at Microsoft are all on board Ozzie's "Live" mission. "The Office people absolutely believe in it. The Windows team absolutely believes in it. This is a point of common ground for the two major divisions, and Ray is driving that," Moromisato says.
Still, can one man, no matter how charismatic, shake up a company as big as Microsoft and pre-empt the Google juggernaut? One Microsoft partner, Alain Dias, COO of Ascentium, Bellevue, Wash., has no doubts. "I think Ray Ozzie—and about $5 billion—can do just about anything," he says.