I have a lot of respect for ex-Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, but when I saw that he'd taken to promoting a Clipper-Chip-style key escrow system, I was disheartened -- I'm a pretty keen observer of these proposals and have spent a lot of time having their problems explained to me by some of the world's leading cryptographers, and this one seemed like it had the same problems as all of those dead letters.
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Dan Gillmor has the news that Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's visionary Chief Software Architect, has left the company. Ozzie, whose P2P startup Groove was bought by Microsoft, is admired and well-liked in tech circles as someone who believes in the transformative power of technology to improve the world. Like Gillmor, I was very hopeful for Microsoft when Ozzie was given the Chief Software Architect role after Bill Gates stepped down, and dared to dream about what Microsoft might be like if he ended up running the company -- so, like Gillmor, I'm pretty disappointed to see him go (and excited to see what he does next).
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For all his qualities, Ozzie didn't push Microsoft fast enough toward the future, or else his pushing was resisted. Microsoft dallied way too long to get into the "cloud" where software becomes as much as service as a product you buy. The competition -- Google, Amazon and others -- is more entrenched now, and for all the formidable technical talent at Microsoft, the company hasn't caught up in key areas. Keep in mind, however, that Microsoft's bread and butter (and gold and diamonds) remains in the licensed-software market, where it's still an absolutely huge and immensely profitable enterprise.
It'll be fascinating to see what Ozzie does next. I find myself hoping he'll try something in the social-entrepreneurship arena. Certainly he can live with a lower paycheck than most of us.
As for Microsoft, which keeps losing (or expelling) top executives, the questions grow more urgent. Ballmer has been a better CEO than his critics say, but if the board isn't pushing him to line up a solid successor, and soon, the directors are falling down on the job.