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Microsoft's Ray Ozzie Envisions a 'Post-PC World'

What will a "post-PC world" look like? Ray Ozzie, renowned for jumpstarting Microsoft's move to the cloud, described a new vision for such an environment in a memo posted this week.

Ozzie is the former chief software architect for Microsoft, having moved on to an unspecified transition role at the entertainment side of the company. Ozzie's semi-retirement was announced last week by Microsoft, along with the elimination of the chief software architect position (a former Bill Gates role). Ozzie is perhaps best known for his 2005 Microsoft memo outlining a services-connected world. Microsoft has embraced that view, as signaled by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's speech in March that the company is "all in" when it comes to the cloud.

Ozzie's latest memo, posted earlier this week but oddly dated in the future (Oct. 28, 2010), asked a question that might not be music to the ears of Microsoft with its near-monopoly on the desktop PC operating system market. Ozzie said he sees a world of multiple, appliance-like "connected devices" that sync with the cloud, perhaps implying that there might be less of a need for, or interest in, PCs.

"And so at this juncture, given all that has transpired in computing and communications, it's important that all of us do precisely what our competitors and customers will ultimately do: close our eyes and form a realistic picture of what a post-PC world might actually look like, if it were to ever truly occur."

However, Ozzie did note an exception, citing the rise of low-cost netbooks. When they were first launched, netbooks ran Linux-based operating systems. But a year later, Microsoft's Windows XP became the predominant OS distribution for netbooks. However, shadowing that accomplishment is the possibility that users might connect to the Internet on laptop-like devices without Windows at all. Google has laid out such a vision with its Chrome OS concept, but it is yet to come to market.

Of course, Microsoft is already positioning itself for a consumer device-connected world, having unveiled Windows Phone 7-based devices this month. The company currently trails in the consumer mobile OS market but dominates in the commercial device operating system market with its Windows Embedded product line. Windows Embedded operating systems are currently used in equipment such as ruggedized field devices, kiosks and digital signs.

Ozzie also said he sees a role for social networks, for both individuals and businesses. The next killer apps will find a role there, tapping "continuous services." He also predicted some tension associated with the cloud and privacy issues.

"Our personal and corporate data now sits within these services--and as a result we're more and more concerned with issues of trust & privacy," he wrote.

Microsoft has a whole Trustworthy Computing effort devoted to this cause, and the company has sometimes publicized its efforts on privacy, such as with its search and browser technologies. But the company will only go so far. Microsoft did not join Google's strong stance against Chinese government censorship of search results, for instance. At the same time, Google has been criticized for sampling WiFi networks in drive-by polling. In Germany, Google's practice of photographing neighborhoods has met with strong public disapproval.

Oddly, Ozzie's brainchild before coming to Microsoft, a peer-to-peer collaboration application called Groove, was used as part of a United States intelligence-gathering prototype for the infamous Total Information Awareness program, according to a 2002 New York Times article. Groove is now renamed as Microsoft SharePoint Workspace 2010 and is offered as part of the Microsoft SharePoint 2010 product.

Ozzie's latest memo is worth reading as a signal that Microsoft may be putting even greater emphasis on the mobile devices world. Possibly, that focus is part of Ozzie's new role at Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, but so far that's unclear.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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