Thursday, June 29, 2006

Would Gates have preferred Jobs? Yes, claims the Economist

It's annoying. No sooner do I stop subscribing to the evidently moribund Economist than they start showing flashes of their lost audacious insight. Emphases mine.
Economist: Ozzie the Wizard

THE co-founder, chairman and “chief software architect” of Microsoft, the world's largest software company, would deny it on his life, but the one person Bill Gates admires most for his geeky prowess—and might have chosen to succeed him as software architect—is almost certainly Steve Jobs. Unfortunately, Mr Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computer and victim of Mr Gates's predatory business instincts during the 1980s and 1990s, cannot be considered available, since he is busy leading Apple's renaissance as a builder of gadgets and software that, in the opinion of his fans, put Microsoft to shame. So Mr Gates spent years courting the geek he admires second most, a software pioneer named Ray Ozzie.

After many overtures, Microsoft last year bought Mr Ozzie's company, Groove Networks, and thus brought Mr Ozzie and his brother Jack inside the Microsoft tent...

... As a kid in suburban Chicago, Mr Ozzie was already soldering all sorts of dangerous circuits together in a guest bedroom, but it was at college in the 1970s that he discovered his passion, which was, as he once put it, “to augment relationships” among human beings through technology. The catalyst was his encounter with PLATO, ... he devoted his next three decades to writing software that enables “collaboration”.

His single biggest breakthrough came in the 1980s, when Mr Ozzie personally wrote a million of the first 3.5m lines of code for the first successful collaboration software, Lotus Notes...

... Mr Ozzie's company, Groove, was not a commercial success this time, but Mr Gates and others in the industry nonetheless saw the idea and recognised its potential. Last April Messrs Gates and Ozzie joined forces.

One reason why Mr Gates is so drawn to Mr Ozzie is that, as Mr Gates has said, “Ray is incredible at thinking of the end-user experience,” an area where Mr Gates, whose own genius is weighted towards business strategy rather than software finesse, has a less stellar reputation. Another reason is Mr Ozzie's personality, which is the opposite both of Mr Gates's and Mr Jobs's. Mr Gates has a squeaky voice and sounds perennially on the point of irritation; Mr Jobs pushes his colleagues as Ramses did his pyramid-builders and appears to have a similar self-image. Mr Ozzie, by contrast, wears a permanent Buddha-like smile, speaks in a soothing, deep voice and delivers even harsh appraisals with reassuring charm...
I've read many articles on the Gates transition. This and Cringely's are the only two worth the print. I presume the Jobs reference is tongue-in-cheek, but it is oddly plausible. Gates strategic brilliance (used to Evil ends, of course) and Jobs user experience genius would have been an utterly astounding combination. Of course they would never have been able to collaborate ...

Note the reference to PLATO, the face that launched a thousand ships. Old software never dies, PLATO was reborn as Notes and Groove and more. It was revolutionary.

I cannot resist the geek compulsion to imagine Bill Gates. I think of him as ruthless, with a compulsive desire to see things 'as they are' rather than as they are imagined to be. I imagine this is what has allowed him to kill ventures quickly. Did he realize his own weaknesses stood in the way -- and that for Ozzie to succeed he would have to leave? I wonder then how long Balmer will last.

Incidentally, Jon Udell, a deep thinker I've long admired, has had a longstanding relationship with Ozzie. It's hard to imagine Jon working for Gates, but it wouldn't shock me if he joined Ozzie. That would make for some interesting times.

PS. The Economist has also added links to 'article background' on their web site. It will be interesting to see what they do with these. They are web only, and the one for this article was well linked.

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