Ray Ozzie on Azure, Office unchained, and Openness

Three years to the day from his corner-turn memo about changing Microsoft’s direction from software to software plus services and after two days of keynotes, Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie reviewed the launch of the Windows Azure cloud OS and forthcoming online versions of the Office suite.

Ozzie: It’s fun that it’s all coming together. It was Mary Jo [Foley] yesterday who pointed out that today is three years to the day that I wrote that initial Services memo – the disruptions thing.

Gillmor: The San Francisco thing…

Ozzie: Right, what a disaster that was… When there’s no Internet access when we’re trying to show how the company’s going live…

Gillmor: Obviously, it’s a bit of jujitsu to get to the Web with Office.

Ozzie: The the way that they’ve done it.. a few years ago when they were in the planning phase of this next wave, it was basically, what approach should we take? Should we race to the finish line and have something that was complementary with the base Office or should we do it in a way that guarantees compatibility so that we could implement things and have the same back end so that the same file formats would be … it would have their full richness and so on? And that’s the route they went and I think for the customer it’ going to end up being the right route. If you happen to be at a kiosk or wherever, you can use the document where it happens to be stored,and people who are using the PCs will not have any clue that you used whatever – it will just work.

Gillmor: So basically you buy Office and you get all the licenses?

[Frank Shaw interjected: We’ve not talked about pricing and licensing. For consumers, one way to access would be the Office Live workspaces and they’d be free or ad supported.]

Ozzie: But you could assume that we want to offer enterprise users the power of choice in the way that they do these things, and even though we’re not talking about specifically about the licensing..

You’ll find a way for that to happen…

Ozzie: Yeah.

The BBC demo was astounding I thought.

Ozzie: It was neat because they were using Mesh to replicate their content down to the devices. It was great.

Gillmor: You know my Twitter mania, It was interesting that hey talked about activity streams. They seem to be looking at a relationship with users, where they insert themselves as a kind of dynamic portal. Does that ring any bells for you?

Ozzie: It rings bells in a few ways. I think everyone has, whether it’s Facebook feeds or Twitter or Groove alerts or whatever, I think we’ve all come to the realization that you need to give the user tools to tune the way that they would like to be notified of different activities that are out there that they’re interested in, and you need to give people the ability to both feed many things and collect from many things.

I don’t know that the world is going to unify on one; it doesn’t seem to be heading in that direction – one aggregator…

Gillmor: It didn’t happen with email.

Ozzie: That’s right. It didn’t with email, although it’s weird. I didn’t know how instant messaging was going to pan out, but it never really broke out of the walled garden.

Gillmor: Some people, including me, think public IM like Twitter will become an aggregation point for all of these things.

Ozzie: Could very well be. It will be interesting to see how it pans out. for them. I have not followed that in months so I don’t know if they have begun to address some of the architectural issues. Or if there are proposals to use XMPP type technologies.

XMPP seems to be becoming a greenfield. I heard from a Microsoft business partner that he’s using Silverlight not so much for its video capabilities but as a callback mechanism to keep the website in sync with the servers in the cloud.

Ozzie: That’s interesting.

Gillmor: That seems to be the kind of service fabric you’ve been announcing for the last couple of days.

Ozzie: Yes, there are many ways that these things can be mixed and matched. That’s why this conference and this audience are such a good group. For Microsoft this has the highest dynamics of any ecosystem related to our technologies. The open source community has its own people who are always at the forefront pushing, trying to mix this with that and see where it goes. I’m pretty excited that at least it’s out there now and probably over the next six months or so we’ll see how people are recombining it.

Gillmor: Back to Office for a second. The online version seems to be some part SIlverlight, some downlevel browser.

Ozzie: Yes, they’ve used Silverlight strategically. I don’t know what it will be like when they ship, but wherever they use Silverlight, they also have an Ajax version, but they prefer to use the SIlverlight version because it’s richer. It’s especially richer when you’re syndicating a presentation online, the way it renders text and so on.

Gillmor: And of course for me, it works on the Mac.

Ozzie: Yes, it does work on the Mac. We’ll get you to switch. There’s a whole new movement of switchers.

Gillmor: Oh really? Where did you hear that?

Ozzie: I don’t know, I made it up. I thought you could start it.

The thing that’s fun for me about what you’ve seen in the last couple of days is that you can get a sense for what it’s like if a company of this scale actually is all working in a productive way toward a common vision. When people are working in many different directions, there’s no real opportunity to notice what the heck people are doing. But once you can kind of weave them together, they’ll make the connection from that thing to that thing and so on. It’s nice to see it coming together, both from the user experience and the back end. What’s your take? I don’t expect you to be totally sold on it, but it’s a little different probably from some of the things you’ve been seeing.

Gillmor: Well, at some point the Mesh and Live services cross over and really obviate the differences at the hardware level. It becomes a kind of uber operating system for the Web. As long as you keep this open, people will be able to compete against this, but they won’t be able to stop it.

Ozzie: The way I approach things is a little bit different, perhaps a little bit difficult to explain. I actually think we should be comfortable in our own skin in terms of the position that we’re in, and not be afraid of the openness. And as long as we do the really good things and expose them in ways that people can hook into it, great things will happen.