Microsoft's (Quote) new top technology visionary presented a more down to earth view of the company's growing software-plus-services initiative last week than he has to date, but it was still a vision with only sketchy details.
Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, made the presentation to analysts attending the company's annual financial analysts meeting on its Redmond, Wash. campus. He said that the company will be delivering more pieces of the puzzle in the next year and a half, but gave few details.
At the same time, Ozzie announced that Microsoft would ship on Friday the first release candidate of its Silverlight 1.0 streaming media technology. (Release Candidate, or RC stage, is the last phase of Microsoft's beta testing cycle prior to a product's release to the public.) Final shipment is scheduled for later this summer.
Key to Microsoft's software-plus-services vision is what Ozzie describes as a "platform strategy." By deploying its services architecture as a platform that can be used to quickly build other services in layers or tiers, Microsoft hopes to gain economies of scale as well as high levels of flexibility. That in turn is meant to give it a strategic advantage in the marketplace going forward.
"Services is going to be a critical aspect of all of our offerings from Windows and Office on the client to Exchange and SharePoint and [the] Dynamics [product family] and other things on the server," Ozzie said.
"In order to gain leverage across all of our offerings, we're taking a platform approach to services, giving each of our products the common benefits of cost, speed, scale and monetization that a platform approach offers."
Ozzie is a legendary technology entrepreneur who created Lotus Notes, which was later purchased by IBM. He joined Microsoft in 2005 when the company bought out his newest startup, Groove Networks, with its Groove collaboration product. Chairman Bill Gates named Ozzie to be his replacement as the company's chief software architect a year ago.
At the bottom of Ozzie's services stack are all of the company's physical data centers - and more to come - that Microsoft has been investing in over the past several years, along with the networks that connect them. Ozzie's slide presentation described that physical layer as "global foundation services."
The next tier above that is what Ozzie calls "cloud infrastructure services."
This level will provide a "utility computing fabric," including virtualization support, for all online services to run on. It also will provide application frameworks designed to support a variety of application models.
Finally, this cloud layer will provide automatic deployment, load balancing, performance optimization, and horizontally scalable storage -- including searchable storage functionality, which is likely to be crucial for the company's search strategy.
Next up is the "Live platform services" layer, which will provide services designed specifically to serve the needs of applications.
"These are services like identity services, contact lists -- this is the layer where our social graph of your relationships lives, your presence and rendezvous, communication services [and] perhaps most importantly, our advertising platform infrastructure lives at this level," Ozzie added.
Above that is a tier that Ozzie refers to as "applications and solutions." That's where the rubber meets the road. That's the layer where the on-demand utility computing back end hooks up with rich Internet applications on the front end. Office Live CRM sits at this level along with the myriad Windows Live services and Xbox Live as well as MSN, Ozzie said.
This is also the layer at which he sees Silverlight coming into play. For instance, in one scenario, Silverlight could be used to stream baseball games with the ability to place custom advertising on the screen.