After a two-decade courtship of Ray Ozzie, Microsoft Corp. finally landed the soft-spoken industry visionary last year and now he will succeed company founder Bill Gates as its top technical guru.
Standing at the forefront of Microsoft's push to integrate online services with its dominant desktop software and fend off aggressive Internet rivals, Ozzie assumed the mantle of chief software architect from Gates yesterday.
Ozzie's track record of ground-breaking software and respect among programmers is almost unparalleled in the industry. Ozzie created Lotus Notes, one of the first popular corporate e-mail programs, which was then sold to IBM.
"There just aren't other people like Ray in this business. You couldn't ask for a better track record," said Gates in an interview with Reuters. "I have no doubts about Ray's abilities."
Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer was also effusive in his praise for the white-haired Ozzie.
"We wanted to work with Ray for about 20-plus years," said Ballmer. "We expected a lot, but this has worked out a lot better than we had any right to expect."
Ozzie, 50, joined Microsoft last year as one of three chief technical officers after the Redmond, Washington company acquired his Massachusetts-based collaborative software company, Groove Networks.
Now, he takes on a heavy responsibility as Microsoft looks to find new sources of growth beyond its Office productivity suite and Windows operating system, which already runs 90 percent of the world's personal computers.
But decades of work on breakthrough software technology that fostered collaboration through email and document-sharing has prepared Ozzie to fill shoes as big as Gates', according to several industry players.
"He's got great integrity. He can therefore build trust with people," Lotus Corp. founder Mitch Kapor said of Ozzie.
One Wall Street analyst agreed.
"It's not like he has to build his credibility. He has got that in spades," said Charles Di Bona, analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein.
Still, Ozzie will never wield the power his predecessor did in the same post, said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm.
"He's not going to be able to take on all of Bill Gates' role," Rosoff said. "As the founder, Bill Gates had a kind of moral authority that no one else can really take on."
(Additional reporting by Yinka Adegoke in New York, Eric Auchard in Las Vegas, Philipp Gollner and Scott Hillis in San Francisco and Daisuke Wakabayashi in Seattle.)
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