Rory Cellan-Jones

Ray Ozzie and the business of clouds

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 28 Oct 08, 10:30 GMT

Is there anyone out there who feels neutral about Microsoft? When I interviewed Steve Ballmer last month, an old friend argued that my encounter with Microsoft's chief executive was a complete waste of time. The friend - he's the kind of guy who writes "Micro$oft" - believes that Mr Ballmer's business is increasingly irrelevant to the future of the internet, left in the dirt by the likes of Google.

So I'm expecting a lot more flak from that direction over our coverage of Microsoft's move into cloud computing, and our interview with Ray Ozzie. But I make no apologies for covering a major shift in strategy by what is still an incredibly powerful and important company, What's more, Mr Ozzie is a serious figure, the creator of Lotus Notes, and a quiet, but passionate, evangelist for Microsoft's cloud strategy.

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Whether his cunning plan will work is another matter. Microsoft is hardly the nimblest of companies and others - notably Amazon and Google - are ahead of the game. When I met Ray Ozzie shortly after the keynote where he unveiled the Windows Azure platform, he was keen to differentiate between Google and Amazon as potential competitors. He said it was Amazon that had been the real pioneer, insisting that Google just wasn't in cloud computing.

I pointed out that the one cloud application with which I was familiar was Google Docs - in fact, this blog post is starting life as an online Google document. But it turned out we were looking at the cloud from different sides. Mr Ozzie was focussing on it as something you rented out to businesses so they could use the vast computing power in your data centres to create applications which could scale up in a hurry - an approach where Amazon is enjoying plenty of success. I was thinking of the cloud as a place where millions of users could store their data and use simple online programmes, mostly for free.

You can see why Microsoft would be keener on the former interpretation. It involves creating a new business of a traditional kind, where business customers pay you real money for a service.

Whereas offering online services to consumers - which, to be fair, Microsoft is doing through Live Mesh - is tricky to turn into a profitable enterprise, and could cannibalise your existing business. Do you really want to start pushing the idea that software can be free, flexible and supported by advertising, when you're still reaping huge profits from Office?

(Mind you, I have a hunch Microsoft may be planning some kind of cloud version of Office, because when I suggested something of the kind to Ray Ozzie, he prevaricated, as if an announcement were imminent.)

Microsoft certainly appears to be taking its cloud venture seriously. In Los Angeles it felt like a small army had been working on "Azure" for years, where as Sam Schillace of Google Docs boasts that his entire team costs about the same as the cafe where they eat. Mr Schillace feels that's an advantage, claiming that nimbleness, openness and velocity are the watchwords of the cloud era. Microsoft believes its superior firepower in the enterprise world, where as Ray Ozzie put it "most major companies don't want software updated every day" will give it the upper hand.

Last month Steve Ballmer described Microsoft as a David in search compared to Google's Goliath. Now, in the battle of the clouds, the Goliaths of Redmond seem to have decided that Google isn't even in the game.


  • Comment number 1.

    Only Micro$oft would name their cloud platform after a cloudless sky.

    From the Oxford English Dictionary:

    azure |'a zh ?r|
    bright blue in color, like a cloudless sky : white beaches surrounded by azure seas.
    • Heraldry blue : [ postpositive ] a saltire azure.

    I'd love to know how many millions of dollars the morons who dreamt this name up were paid. But my guess is it was Ballmer who came up with the name.

    As for the azure platform, well as long as it stays Windoze only, you can count me out. In fact, even if they made it work with OS X, Ubuntu, Dream Linux and any other OS, I still would never put my data in the hands of a convicted monopolist.

  • Comment number 2.

    I actually thought Azure was a very clever name. Better than say 'Nimbus'.

    If you take it to mean that by using MS's Azure application, you will see only "Blue Sky" (think management buzzword), then by letting MS handle all the data / software side gives you the "Blue Sky" to continue to perform your business...

  • Comment number 3.

    I never got the whole "Micro$oft" insult.

    Oooh, they're successful! Cuts deep.

  • Comment number 4.

    Microsoft is hated because it is a monopoly that has escaped being broken up by bribing politicians (it funds both Republicans and the Democrats in the US).

    It has the power to crush any innovator (cf Netscape) by copying the innovation and distributing the copy with Windows possibly without charge.

    After all this, the executives and programmers are so arrogant as to believe they are innovators acting in a competitive market.

    So... Naturally I would LOVE to work there!

  • Comment number 5.

    Not sure if I'm neutral but I am fairly ambivalent about Microsoft. Most of the things that they have been accused of (e.g. stealing competitors ideas and making them more successful) are common in all industries. The fact is that they developed a solution 20 years ago that has gone on to make them a vast fortune. On balance this is a good thing!

    The anti-trust indictment was stupid, and MS could have defended it early on rather than let it develop for years, instead they buried a head in the sand let it get political.

    My criticism is that they don't appear to have used the cash cow to sensibly innovate and develop their products.

    As an everyday user I can barely tell the difference between Office 97 and whatever is the latest edition I'm using.

    Vista didn't live up to the promise, and it is damning when following an upgrade some people still want to purchase the outdated version.

    The most radical thing that they could do is to totally recode the entire OS so that it is 100 % reliable and hack proof (or at least less of a leaky sieve) and offer a proper fully integrated version of Office.

    20 years on and all I want is something that doesn't crash so often, is that too much to ask from the world's (nearly) richest company?

  • Comment number 6.

    No, Microsoft is hated becasue it is suddessful.

    Just like every other dominant player in every industry.

    Look at Sports. Manchester United, Michael Schumacher, New Zealand Rugby, Joe Calzaghe, Michael Johnson and Tiger Woods are all derided as much as they are supported. Their dominance polarises opinion between those who can see the good that they bring and those who want to see the underdog flourish.

    Tescos, M&S, Ford, PC World, Ikea and McDonalds suffer from the same affliction. The only difference is that MS have been even more dominant and so feel the pinch even harder. Plus there is a disproportionate amount of MS-haters involved in Internet communications to make it seem even worse.

  • Comment number 7.

    One of the reasons that Microsoft is hated is the arrogance with which they have exploited their market position and inspired other companies to do the same.

    I still remember the shock of installing XP and discovering that Microsoft thought they had more rights over my hardware than I did.

    What seemed like a plethora of services were phoning home to Microsoft without consulting me, over a net connection I was paying for, and threatening to lock me out if I didn't register.

    It took time to wrest back some kind of control. Ever since then, if we wish to continue running software that's bought and paid for, we've had to accede to our hardware and software being audited, over our net connections, by a growing number of companies, whenever it takes their fancy.

    On the basis that, 'oh no, you didn't buy it (even though you paid £400-£500), you bought a licence that we can vary at any time.'

    To add insult to injury, every time systems get upgraded Microsoft 'eats' the difference, with additions to secure its products against attack and even promote DRM ahead of the interests of its paying customers.

    Now they want to keep all their code on their servers and have a regular rental direct debit on our accounts, super for their cash flow, and be the gatekeepers of our data to boot.

  • Comment number 8.

    I think it's great that MS are hated because it gives the rest of us a good laugh when the psychotic pond life that hate them for some pretty silly reasons crawl out from under their rocks to speak their brain.

    I mean, sheesh. If you don't like a product then fine. Just don't get your panties in a bunch over it.

    As for Azure, I like the name but I'm more interested in what it delivers.

  • Comment number 9.

    Micro$oft is not an insult based on their success. It is an insult based upon money being their perceived sole interest, with scant regard given to customer service or product delivery. This is made worse that they focus the bulk of their better work at business users with home users seeing little of value.

    This is perhaps slightly unfair, what I would say they are guilty of is poor planning. I bought a copy of XP and after running it for about 6 months I decided I wanted to format my hard disk and reinstall it, my activation code didn't work. A call to customer service sorted this out, however the reason given for it not working, "We didn't expect home users to need to reinstall" was pretty poor imo.

    My only other complaint with MS is that their stuff is slow, unreliable, buggy, insecure and particularly with Vista, irritating to use. Can't prove anything but it smells a little of lazy coding to me.

  • Comment number 10.

    This is all very well but you still need a PC with Windows and it's frequent updates to access the cloud.
    Until someone brings out a stable, safe and cheap thin client this still has the same problem of having to update your access device

  • Comment number 11.


    Firstly, I just wanted to comment on how much I enjoyed your recent story on Cloud Computing on today's Six O'Clock news and also on the dot life blog.

    The story on today's news was both informative and answered many of the concerns that many IT Professionals have, i.e. Where are the "cloud" data centers and how secure are they? Your video was great.

    I also enjoyed the interview with Microsoft's Ray Ozzie. It is wonderful to see the Beeb leading in the coverage of technology stories. Can we please have more IT news on both the Six and Ten O'Clock news please?

    Secondly, I would like to make a few suggestions to enrich [the viewers] experience.

    1) In future, if an IT news story on the Six or Ten news is also on the dot net blog. Would it be possible to include a URL link at the end of your video segment? This will allow us to join in on the conversation online.

    2) Please allow us bloggers the ability to embed your videos!! Your interviews are much appreciated and bloggers would like to embed the videos in their posts!

  • Comment number 12.

    As I suspected, Ray Ozzie was preparing a big announcement about Office on the web when he spoke to me on Monday. On Tuesday Microsoft revealed that users would be able to create edit and share word documents, spreadsheets and presentations online. What isn't quite clear is whether this online Office will be free - in which case why would any casual home user buy the full product?

  • Comment number 13.


    I don't know many home users who fork out for a full office licence, it is way overpriced for the product that you are getting, in my experience they are mostly broken into these categories

    1.Maybe a bit tech savvy and so go for open office, and put up with it's shortcomings when compared to MSO
    2.Get it included with their computer
    3.Get it from mininova
    4.Put up with works

    I really still don't think that microsoft get why they have failed so badly with the internet.

    They don't realize it should be us telling us what we want, not them telling us what we want.

    The fact that they are still saying Vista is a great operating system and that windows 7 will be building on vista, and adding in a few pretty functions, shows that they are still thinking 10 years ago.

    I use windows because Mac's are even more locked in than windows pc's and linux still isn't quite at the usability level needed for me to be able to use it.

    As soon as it is, i'm off.

  • Comment number 14.

    I just reread and I meant us telling them what we want

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm going to start writing Appl€ and maybe Goog£€

  • Comment number 16.

    ...okay, so the blog doesn't do euro signs.


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