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Microsoft's Ozzie: 'The PC's Amazingly Relevant'

Ray Ozzie and Microsoft Windows Azure

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Microsoft’s chief software architect Ray Ozzie forecasts a cloudy future for the technology industry. And that’s a good thing.

Speaking to a large gathering at the Churchill Club in Silicon Valley on Thursday night, Ozzie covered a number of topics but was most animated when talking about the potential for so-called "cloud computing."

While acknowledging that cloud computing "is nothing new" – he noted that timesharing "utility computing" was all the rage when he first encountered the industry in the late 1960s – Ozzie said the cloud computing coming into vogue today is "fundamentally transformational."

"We have ubiquitous high bandwidth right now, devices are cheap, we have the storage and the computation and these massive data centers," he said. "We as architects can imagine a solution, a user experience, which brings all these pieces and experiences together in the cloud."

Not that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) always has been pointed in the cloud computing direction. Prior to joining the software behemoth in 2005, Ozzie had created a company called Groove. Moderator and Wired writer Steven Levy described Groove as "very cloudy" and wondered aloud: "Was Microsoft sufficiently cloudy for you?"

Amid audience laughter, Ozzie replied wryly that "the hailstorm had passed" in the months prior to his arrival, referring to the company’s fumbling initial efforts, codenamed hailstorm, to create cloud-based services and was still busily preparing Vista and Office 2007 when he arrived.

The connected PC and the 'cloud ethos'

"There was a lot of PC thinking" at Microsoft, he said. "The PC was still the center of how most people thought about things, and it was a little scary. By that time I knew there was this transformation happening. I still think the PC is amazingly relevant, but it's the connected PC, it's the PC connected to the cloud, connected to other PCs, the PC connected to phones and TVs, that's what matters."

So Ozzie, working with Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, set about a process of change management to accommodate what he calls "the cloud ethos."

"Those cloud values have, at their core, interoperability and openness of data formats," he said. "It is the life blood, the DNA, of getting systems to connect with one another."

After he joined the software giant, Ozzie said he examined how the best of Microsoft’s consumer properties – including Hotmail and Messenger, each with somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 million users at the time – were building systems. "We took that services expertise and asked: If you were designing that system now for the next 30 years, what would it look like? What would the operating systems look like for the client side and the server side moving forward?"

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