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Ray Ozzie, the man leading Microsoft's comeback

Microsoft chief software architect takes on Google

Ray Ozzie's ambitious plan to revitalise Microsoft's software, beef up its services, and kick seven bells out of Google.

Microsoft: Too big to succeed?

Critics argue, however, that such a rosy picture of Microsoft's future is unlikely.

Before Ozzie can beat Google, they say, he must first confront an even scarier foe: Microsoft's own lumbering, bellicose corporate culture.

Direct competition of Google's magnitude has been a rarity in Steve Ballmer's 10-year tenure as CEO, and some analysts fear Microsoft's competitive spirit has irreparably atrophied.

Insiders warn that Microsoft's ability to innovate is hampered by infighting and bureaucratic mismanagement.

In an editorial for the New York Times, former Microsoft exec Dick Brass described the company as "a dysfunctional corporate culture in which the big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence".

That description will sound familiar to Microsoft's competitors, who have long bemoaned the company's tendency to rely more on undisclosed file formats, hidden APIs, product tying, backroom deals, negative marketing campaigns, and other anticompetitive tactics than on innovation.

There is reason to hope Ozzie will not follow Bill Gates' lead in this regard; in his 2005 memo, Ozzie urged Microsoft product groups to "compete energetically but also responsibly" - for example, by allowing outside developers full and equal access to Windows APIs. But old habits die hard, and Microsoft is a big company.

If Ozzie cannot foster a culture of innovation at Microsoft, however, some battles may already be lost.

Arguably the most critical challenge for the software giant is regaining a competitive position in the smartphone market. Steve Ballmer himself admits his company "screwed up" with the underfeatured Windows Mobile 6.5.

Among the stated goals of Office 2010 is to deliver "the best productivity experience across the PC, phone, and browser", but if Windows Phone 7 disappoints again, that goal will be stillborn.

Microsoft cannot afford such missteps. If the software giant's legendary intransigence prevents it from realigning itself with Ozzie's vision, there will be tough times ahead in Redmond.

With its sky-high revenues - Microsoft earned $20bn in operating income in 2009 - the danger is not that Microsoft will disappear, but that it will drift into irrelevancy, leaving competitors such as Google to dictate the direction of the computing market.

As the man with the job of reversing that drift, it can't be easy being Ray Ozzie - but it must be exciting.

See also: Microsoft and Google battle to heat up in 2010

  1. Just what has Ray Ozzie got up his sleeve
  2. Ozzie rules
  3. Taking Office to the web
  4. All roads lead to SharePoint
  5. Microsoft's datacenters are your datacenters
  6. More than just a technical shift
  7. Too big to succeed?

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