Ray Ozzie leaving Microsoft: He'll always have Notes

Updated: A look back at what made Ozzie a software rock star in the first place

Forever best known to many as the father of Lotus Notes, Ray Ozzie is leaving his position as Microsoft's chief software architect, the one previously held by a guy named Gates. Following a transition period of unannounced length, Ozzie will be exiting the company, too.

Reviews of his five-and-a-half-year tenure are running mixed, with most attributing his difficulties to an intractable culture of turf wars within Microsoft and a few contending that Ozzie is simply overrated.

In December 2004, three months before Ozzie sold Groove Networks to Microsoft and assumed what proved to be a temporary title of chief technical officer, I conducted an extensive interview with him to mark the 15th anniversary of Lotus Notes.  In it you can see the mindset he brought to Redmond, and I also thought it interesting to see his self-review of what went right and what went wrong during that more lauded chapter of his career.  It also reveals Ozzie as a more candid type - much more candid - than one typically encounters in the upper echelons of the business world. Here's a piece:

Looking back, were there any aspects of Notes that you had spot-on from the beginning -- or missed?

Absolutely. I'll start with what we missed. We missed -- but I missed clearly -- the immense value in simple publishing. Notes was and is an amazing interactive system around messages and forms and documents and things like that, and in order to use it you have to authenticate yourself to the system so that there's some security and you build these apps and it works really well.

We had a number of people at the time -- early customers like Reuters, who were just trying to get their information out to their customers. They were trying to just publish it to lots of users in an organization.

When I first saw the Web -- Mosaic -- I am ashamed to admit that I said to myself, this is so trivial, it's got no security, you can't authenticate, the server doesn't know who the user is -- so all you can do with this is simple publishing. I should have foreseen earlier on in Notes the value of a simpler, anonymous client/reader that could have been used for a much broader set of applications than it was initially.

One of the things we got right... is the respect for off-line use and mobility. You have to know from day one when you're building a system that you want to treat mobility as a first-class problem. Early on in Notes (we embraced) the concept of putting all of the code that would be on the server on the client so that you could do this replication. Obviously we did that again in Groove, in a different, much more sophisticated way, but it's the same basic idea that you want to empower the user to work whenever, wherever they need to work. I think we got that so right and it amazes me to this day that more people haven't gotten it right.

Why do you think that is?

It's hard. It's hard and you can't add it on, particularly the integration between the storage, communications and security. They all have to be wrapped together from day one in order to get that seamless use between what you do on the client and what you do when you're connected.

The full interview also gets into the early history of Notes and Ozzie's face-to-face meeting with Lou Gerstner when IBM was buying Lotus, a corporate culture clash at the time that makes Ozzie and Microsoft seem like a match made in heaven.

(Update: Other reactions ... InfoWorld's Woody Leonard asks, "What took him so long?" ... Another questions: "Was Ozzie's head in the clouds as rivals stole his role?" ... Pity? "It's a shame about Ray Ozzie" ... At ZDNet: "Does Microsoft really need a chief software architect?" Ballmer said no in his e-mail announcing Ozzie's departure, for whatever that's worth.)

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