In a memo, Microsoft executive Ray Ozzie warned that the industry is moving to a post-PC world, and warned Microsoft employees that they must either lead or be pushed aside.
The memo, entitled "Dawn of a New Day," was dated Oct 28 and posted to Ozzie's personal blog. The memo marked five years after Ozzie arrived at the company, where he penned a similar memocharting the need to launch Internet services.
Ozzie said that memo had helped Microsoft on to success in the cloud, with products like Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Windows Live, and a socially-connected Xbox.
"Our products are now more relevant than ever," Ozzie wrote. "Bing has blossomed and its advertising, social, metadata & real-time analytics capabilities are growing to power every one of our myriad services offerings. Over the years the Windows client expanded its relevance even with the rise of low-cost netbooks. Office expanded its relevance even with a shift toward open data formats & web-based productivity. Our server assets have had greater relevance even with a marked shift toward virtualization & cloud computing."
Ozzie's latest memo, however, may have much less impact than his previous missive, however. That's because Ozzie said he would step down from his post as chief software architect after an undisclosed amount of of time. Ozzie apparently has no plans after that.
Ozzie's memo acknowledged the reality of "always-on" services like Facebook or Twitter, or Web mail services like Gmail or Hotmail, combined with connected devices like the Boxee Box or Apple TV.
"For the most part, we've grown to perceive of 'computing' as being equated with specific familiar 'artifacts' such as the 'computer', the 'program' that's installed on a computer, and the 'files' that are stored on that computer's 'desktop'. For the majority of users, the PC is largely indistinguishable even from the 'browser' or 'internet'," Ozzie wrote.
"As such, it's difficult for many of us to even imagine that this could ever change."
But change it has, Ozzie wrote.
"As we've begun to embrace today's incredibly powerful app-capable phones and pads into our daily lives, and as we've embraced myriad innovative services & websites, the early adopters among us have decidedly begun to move away from mentally associating our computing activities with the hardware/software artifacts of our past such as PC's, CD-installed programs, desktops, folders & files," Ozzie wrote.
"Instead, to cope with the inherent complexity of a world of devices, a world of websites, and a world of apps & personal data that is spread across myriad devices & websites, a simple conceptual model is taking shape that brings it all together," Ozzie added. "We're moving toward a world of 1) cloud-based continuous services that connect us all and do our bidding, and 2) appliance-like connected devices enabling us to interact with those cloud-based services."
Continuous services are "websites and cloud-based agents that we can rely on for more and more of what we do"; connected devices are a "phone / internet companion; their car; a shared public display in the conference room, living room, or hallway wall". Each maintains a connection to the other, with the device itself serving as a gateway for the data stored elsewhere, on a server.
"At first blush, this world of continuous services and connected devices doesn't seem very different than today. But those who build, deploy and manage today's websites understand viscerally that fielding a truly continuous service is incredibly difficult and is only achieved by the most sophisticated high-scale consumer websites," Ozzie wrote. "And those who build and deploy application fabrics targeting connected devices understand how challenging it can be to simply & reliably just 'sync' or 'stream'. To achieve these seemingly simple objectives will require dramatic innovation in human interface, hardware, software and services."
Ozzie postulated that "complexity kills," w
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ith the PC revolutionizing the mainframe and server world because of its simplicity and approachability. But he also noted that complexity was inevitable with a growing number of apps, sites, and services.
In the future, Ozzie wrote, designers will have to deal with "'connected companions' that we'll wear, we'll carry, we'll use on our desks & walls and the environment all around us. Service-connected devices going far beyond just the 'screen, keyboard and mouse': humanly-natural 'conscious' devices that'll see, recognize, hear & listen to you and what's around you, that'll feel your touch and gestures and movement, that'll detect your proximity to others; that'll sense your location, direction, altitude, temperature, heartbeat & health."
Microsoft has tried smart gadgets before, most notably the SPOT Watches that the company launched in 2004. But the service quietly fizzled out.