That description will sound familiar to Microsoft's competitors, who have long bemoaned the company's tendency to rely more on undisclosed file formats, hidden APIs, product tying, backroom deals, negative marketing campaigns, and other anticompetitive tactics than on innovation. There is reason to hope Ozzie will not follow Bill Gates' lead in this regard; in his 2005 memo, Ozzie urged Microsoft product groups to "compete energetically but also responsibly" -- for example, by allowing outside developers full and equal access to Windows APIs. But old habits die hard, and Microsoft is a big company.
If Ozzie cannot foster a culture of innovation at Microsoft, however, some battles may already be lost. Arguably the most critical challenge for the software giant is regaining a competitive position in the smartphone market. Steve Ballmer himself admits his company "screwed up" with the underfeatured Windows Mobile 6.5. Among the stated goals of Office 2010 is to deliver "the best productivity experience across the PC, phone, and browser," but if Windows Mobile 7 disappoints again, that goal will be stillborn.
Microsoft cannot afford such missteps. If the software giant's legendary intransigence prevents it from realigning itself with Ozzie's vision, there will be tough times ahead in Redmond. With its sky-high revenues -- Microsoft earned $20 billion in operating income in 2009 -- the danger is not that Microsoft will disappear, but that it will drift into irrelevancy, leaving competitors such as Google to dictate the direction of the computing market. As the man with the job of reversing that drift, it can't be easy being Ray Ozzie -- but it must be exciting.
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