Ray Ozzie on Cloud Strategy and Washington Vs. Massachusetts: Takeaways from Tech Alliance

5/1/09Follow @gthuang

In football, the expression is “three yards and a cloud of dust.” But at Microsoft, it’s apparently “three screens and a cloud.” That’s according to chief software architect Ray Ozzie, who took part in a keynote conversation with University of Washington computer scientist Ed Lazowska at today’s State of Technology Luncheon, hosted by the Technology Alliance at the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle.

Ozzie was speaking about the evolution of cloud-based software to serve three key device categories: phones, laptops, and TV-sized monitors. He and Lazowska (an Xconomist) touched on many other aspects as well, including Microsoft’s leadership and culture, the past, present, and future of computing, and even Boston versus Seattle (which suits Xconomy’s mission particularly well since we’re in both cities). The event was a big deal, especially because Ozzie doesn’t make a lot of public appearances around town, but there was also plenty of other high-profile news and activity from the lunch. Here’s a quick recap, including an edited account of the Q&A with Ozzie.

Susannah Malarkey, executive director of the Technology Alliance (also an Xconomist), made the opening remarks and introduced Gov. Chris Gregoire, who kicked things off with a few comments about the region’s technology leadership. “On a national scale, I’m very excited that science and technology is back in a big way,” she said. “The innovative spirit that is the lifeblood of the 21st century economy is going to happen in our state.” Gregoire cited the importance of such technologies as the smart grid, broadband access, and healthcare software, and stressed the need to improve education from early childhood through graduate schools. Lastly, Gregoire singled out a few Washington companies, including Modumetal, Insitu, and Verdiem, saying “This is the future of our great state…It is not going to happen without all of us working together. We will get through this terrible downturn in our economy.”

Next up, Marty Smith of the Seattle-based Alliance of Angels announced his group had just closed a $4 million-plus seed fund yesterday, to make “sidecar-type investments.” The Alliance of Angels funded five companies that were acquired last year—Cleverset, Shelfari, Insitu, SnapIn Software, and Coffee Equipment Company. And one of these, SnapIn Software (acquired by Nuance for an estimated $180 million last August), was named the Alliance of Angels 2009 Company of the Year, Smith announced. SnapIn, based in Bellevue, WA, was backed by Frazier Technology Ventures, Trilogy Equity Partners, Hunt Ventures, and Oak Investment Partners.

Jeremy Jaech, chair of the Technology Alliance and CEO of Seattle-based Verdiem, followed with an eye-opening rundown of benchmarking stats comparing Washington state with its top technology peers around the country: Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, California, New York, Colorado, and Utah. Jaech, who’s also an Xconomist, pointed out that Washington ranks 4th among its peers in terms of its share of total U.S. venture capital investment (behind California, Massachusetts, and New York), which is encouraging. Washington also ranks in the top 5 in the strength of its engineering workforce, but suffers in education rankings such as 8th grade math proficiency, high school graduation rates, number of bachelor’s and graduate degrees awarded, and state spending on academic research. The most urgent recommendation from Jaech’s team? Boost investment in undergraduate and graduate science and engineering education.

Then it was time for the keynote. The UW’s Lazowska introduced Ray Ozzie by telling the story of how the latter showed up in Seattle in 2005 (when his startup Groove Networks was acquired by Microsoft) and gave a three-hour lecture on collaborative software in Lazowska’s class on the history of computing. I’m not going to do justice to Ozzie’s background here—he’s the main creator of Lotus Notes, among other things, and was a developer at Data General, where Craig Mundie also worked—but let’s just say I’ve long been fascinated by his story of discovering the PLATO mainframe at the University of Illinois in Urbana. (In part because that’s where I did my first computer programming as a high-school kid in 1983. And also, props to a fellow Illini alum.)

Here’s a condensed and edited version of the Ozzie conversation:

Lazowska: In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he talks about the importance of serendipitous timing. What is it about people born in 1955 for computing—Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and you?

Ozzie: Timing is a huge, huge factor. Something else in Gladwell’s book is pretty … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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