Microsoft Group Targets Social Technologies

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect, doesn’t speak in public as often as the guy who held the title before him, Bill Gates. But that doesn’t mean he’s anti-social — especially these days.

On Thursday, Ozzie quietly announced that he’s creating a team to work on so-called “social” technologies. Called the Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Lab, it will combine three existing organizations.

Ozzie has appointed Lili Cheng, a veteran researcher of social technologies at Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Research (MSR), to head up the effort. The announcement came in an internal memo by Ozzie that was released to

“Myriad scenarios involving the notion of ‘social’ have now gone far beyond communications and collaboration and are transforming experiences that are key to our customers and key to our business, in leisure and entertainment; productivity and teamwork; experiences extending how we use the OS itself,” Ozzie said in the memo.

The new FUSE organization will incorporate Cheng’s Creative Systems Group in Redmond, Wash. with Microsoft’s Rich Media Labs, and Startup Labs, the latter located in Cambridge, Mass. Cheng will be general manager, reporting directly to Ozzie.

Though not providing any specifics, it’s clear that the new group is one of Ozzie’s pet projects.

“FUSE Labs’ team will explore new social, real-time and media-rich applications and services that add value to existing products, or could be released on their own,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail to

Social meets media, search, the cloud …

“The three groups being combined have concrete skills and code in areas where ‘social’ meets sharing; where ‘social’ meets real-time; where ‘social’ meets media; where ‘social’ meets search; where ‘social’ meets the cloud plus three screens and a world of devices,” Ozzie’s memo said.

Cheng, who has been with Microsoft for 14 years, is both a veteran social technology researcher and an experienced product development manager – a relatively rare combination of skills. For instance, she managed the user experience teams for Windows Vista, the company said. Prior to that, she ran the Social Computing Group within MSR.

Ozzie took over as Chief Software Architect from Bill Gates in 2006, two years before Gates retired from active work at the company. (Gates remains chairman.) Among Ozzie’s other pet projects are Microsoft’s Live Mesh project to connect devices in the cloud, and the Azure cloud computing platform.

Previously in his career, Ozzie created Lotus Notes and for years was one of Microsoft’s fiercest competitors as well as a pioneer in groupware computing. He joined Microsoft in 2005 when the company bought his latest startup, Groove Networks, which developed collaborative software.

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