Microsoft announced Monday that Bill Gates' hand-picked replacement, Ray Ozzie -- a technology legend in his own right -- is leaving Microsoft little more than four years since he took over the job of "chief software architect."
Ozzie is not leaving immediately. He will not only stay long enough to transition his responsibilities and projects to others, but will also work on the company's entertainment businesses before his departure, according to an e-mail that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer sent to all employees Monday.
"Following the natural transition time with his teams but before he retires from Microsoft, Ray will be focusing his efforts in the broader area of entertainment where Microsoft has many ongoing investments," Ballmer said.
Ozzie was the originator of Lotus Notes in the early 1980s, which he later sold to IBM. He was a staunch competitor of Microsoft for many years. However, he ended up joining Microsoft more than five years ago when Gates and company bought out his latest startup, Groove, as much for the personnel as for the technology.
Not long after his arrival, Ozzie penned a treatise entitled the Internet Services Disruption memo. In it, he predicted that Microsoft had to jump on the cloud computing model or risk the company's future.
"Ray's Internet Services Disruption memo nearly five years ago, and his work since, stimulated thinking across the company and helped catalyze our drive to the cloud," Ballmer acknowledged in his e-mail.
It is true that, at least visibly, the largest accomplishment that Ozzie achieved in his tenure at Microsoft was to get the company firmly on a track to move to a cloud-based services model. The company, this year, in fact, said it has already signed up some 40 million paying customers for its various cloud services.
Additionally, Microsoft has been enabling many of its enterprise products to run either on customer sites or hosted in its own cloud, for which it has built gigantic data centers around the world to support.
Since Gates retired from full-time participation in the company in July 2008 -- though he remains chairman of the board -- Ozzie has been responsible for short and mid-term technology and product strategy at Microsoft.
However, Ozzie was never one who basked in the limelight as Gates did and it has been difficult to say how much impact Ozzie has had inside the company since he speaks publicly so infrequently. It's also hard to say whether that reticence hurt his efforts inside and outside the company, analysts said.
"Ray was never the 'face of Microsoft' like Bill was," Wes Miller, a research vice president at Directions on Microsoft, told InternetNews.com.
It's also hard to tell whether there were clashes between Ozzie and Ballmer, who's known as a very outspoken and aggressive manager. It likely somehow played into the final equation, though, Miller said.
"It's an inevitable point that has to come up [because] there's an obvious potential for a collision ... it's hard to say, but it ended mutually," Miller added.
Mutual or not, Miller as well as another leading analyst both lamented word of Ozzie's planned departure.
"That's a significant blow to the company," Tim Bajarin, president and principal analyst at Creative Strategies, told InternetNews.com
"He [Ozzie] was guiding enterprise and business strategy, and I'm convinced he gave input on smartphones [Windows Phone 7] and tablet PCs," Bajarin added.
Still, he also thought that Ozzie's departure was just a matter of time.
"It is clear that Ballmer is back in control of all things Microsoft," Bajarin said.