Ray Ozzie leaving his Microsoft cloud leadership post. Why?

Ray Ozzie, chief software architect of Microsoft, creator of Lotus Notes and the man handpicked by Bill Gates to take his seat as Chief Wizard of all things Microsoft tech, deviser of MSFT’s move to the cloud – is retiring.

Ozzie, part of the firm for five years, is quitting the crucial role of chief software architect (though now we’re told it isn’t crucial any more, as that role will now lapse on his departure), according to the email notification CEO Steve Ballmer sent round last night to staffers.

Oops.

Ballmer’s email talks about how Ozzie will remain with Microsoft during a transitional period until his "retirement" and how he will do something mysterious in "the broader area of entertainment" where, he says, possibly reassuring either himself or the troops, "Microsoft has many ongoing investments".

"By conceiving, incubating and shepherding Windows Azure [the MSFT cloud offering], Ray helped ensure we have a tremendously rich platform foundation that will enable app-level innovation across the company and by customers for years to come," he adds. "With our progress in services and the cloud now full speed ahead in all aspects of our business, Ray and I are announcing today Ray’s intention to step down from his role as chief software architect… While he’ll continue to report to me during the transition, the CSA role was unique and I won’t refill the role after Ray’s departure."

Version one of how this happened. So it’s not like – if this is all kosher – Ozzie is quitting and going off to join, well, an HP or an Oracle or start up on his own. Steve and Ray have had a chat, looks like Ray’s job is done and "Hey, [hearty clap on the back] time to brush up on your sailing, feller!"

Version two. Ozzie’s fed up of all the b.s., the company’s just not the same since Bill left, Ballmer is a paranoid corporate robot and what the heck, I’d rather fool about with Xbox stuff and kick back for a while before my next move. "Steve, can we talk?"

Version three: Ballmer – channelling Tony Montana in Scarface – decided in the depths of yet another sleepless night of tyrannical despair at his crumbling stock price that someone’s ass needed kicking, so he called up Ozzie and ranted at him for ten minutes more than anyone with any self-respect could take and Ray told him to go shove it.

Obviously, we’ll never know. But Ozzie leaving is part of a pattern – business head Stephen Elop left in September, entertainment and devices head Robbie Bach is also planning to leave, Wall St doesn’t like Ballmer anymore and according to this recent less than scientific poll Redmond people think he’s not very nice.

Is Microsoft in trouble? Nope. Is Ballmer’s leadership looking uncertain? A little. What really matters is that the firm doesn’t now throw out all Ray’s good ideas and go back to defending a desktop monopoly that just isn’t there anymore. Ozzie dragged Microsoft kicking and screaming out of its Windows on fat client bunker mentality and made it embrace the cloud, or at least start walking towards it; please, Steve, don’t turn round and try and go back – in the meantime VDI, Google, Linux and open source have nabbed your parking space.

Go here for the full text of the departure announcement.

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