The Gates and Ozzie Memos

Dave Winer has posted the full text of two memos — one from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the other from new-ish MS CTO Ray Ozzie — that were distributed to MS staff in advance of the announcement of “Microsoft Live”.

I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in the direction of the tech business read them. This is especially true of Ozzie’s memo, which strikes me as a cogent and frank analysis of Microsoft’s current place in the market and what they can do to hold on to their dominant position.

I’ll quote some excerpts from Ozzie’s memo, with emphasis added on key points, to show you what I mean:

[F]or all our great progress, our efforts have not always led to the degree that perhaps they could have. We should’ve been leaders with all our web properties in harnessing the potential of AJAX, following our pioneering work in OWA. We knew search would be important, but through Google’s focus they’ve gained a tremendously strong position. RSS is the internet’s answer to the notification scenarios we’ve discussed and worked on for some time, and is filling a role as ‘the UNIX pipe of the internet’ as people use it to connect data and systems in unanticipated ways. For all its tremendous innovation and its embracing of HTML and XML, Office is not yet the source of key web data formats — surely not to the level of PDF. While we’ve led with great capabilities in Messenger & Communicator, it was Skype, not us, who made VoIP broadly popular and created a new category. We have long understood the importance of mobile messaging scenarios and have made significant investment in device software, yet only now are we surpassing the Blackberry…
A grassroots technology adoption pattern has emerged on the internet largely in parallel to the classic methods of selling software to the enterprise. Products are now discovered through a combination of blogs, search keyword-based advertising, online product marketing and word-of-mouth. It’s now expected that anything discovered can be sampled and experienced through self-service exploration and download. This is true not just for consumer products: even enterprise products now more often than not enter an organization through the internet-based research and trial of a business unit that understands a product’s value.
Limited trial use, ad-monetized or free reduced-function use, subscription-based use, on-line activation, digital license management, automatic update, and other such concepts are now entering the vocabulary of any developer building products that wish to successfully utilize the web as a channel. Products must now embrace a “discover, learn, try, buy, recommend” cycle — sometimes with one of those phases being free, another ad-supported, and yet another being subscription-based. Grassroots adoption requires an end-to-end perspective related to product design. Products must be easily understood by the user upon trial, and useful out-of-the-box with little or no configuration or administrative intervention…
The rapid growth of application assembly using things such as REST, JavaScript and PHP suggests that many developers gravitate toward very rapid, lightweight ways to create and compose solutions. We have always appreciated the need for lightweight development by power users in the form of products such as Access and SharePoint. We should revisit whether we’re adequately serving the lightweight model of development and solution composition for all classes of development…
Complexity kills. It sucks the life out of developers, it makes products difficult to plan, build and test, it introduces security challenges, and it causes end-user and administrator frustration. Moving forward, within all parts of the organization, each of us should ask “What’s different?”, and explore and embrace techniques to reduce complexity.

As the InstaPunditBot would say, read the whole thing.

UPDATE (Nov. 11, 2005): Coverage from The Register: Gates stirs Microsoft with dramatic ‘more meetings’ plea. Best headline ever!

Robert X. Cringely is also weighing in: “Microsoft is leaking internal documents to make us think they have a plan“.


Sandy Smith

November 9, 2005
8:39 am

Looks like they still have the organizational blinders on. They recognise the situtaion, they recognize what people are doing that they aren’t, but they still miss the one key ingredient of making the leap to their next wave of growth:
All the technologies they mention are cross-platform and standardized, with the exception of Google’s services. But even Google’s services take great care to be cross-platform and extend the concept of “seamless” to integration with products that *they don’t make*. There’s nothing in Ozzie’s memo that makes me think he gets that–or if he does, he’s been overruled by the Paranoid Duo of Steve and Bill.
Google also plays well with standards, albeit defacto rather than de jure. XmlHttp didn’t become a big deal until you could implement it everywhere–and that’s MS’s biggest problem. They simply can’t cooperate effectively with others. Doing so would remove the fear a lot of people have at allowing MS into their server closet–if it works well with other systems, they may lose some all-or-nothing sales, but they’ll gain some and gain a whole lot of goodwill along the way.
But my prediction is that they’ll leverage their monopoly on the desktop as much as possible to try to bring everybody to the MS way, and their concept of “lightweight” will still require you to buy MS OSes, MS databases, MS application servers, MS developer tools, and MS services. So they’ll make a little inroad in to new places but ultimately will stay where they are now: the brontosaur surrounded by an ecosystem of mammals.