In fact, for many partners, Ozzie, who was Microsoft's chief software architect, had already disappeared. The huge Microsoft Azure cloud effort moved over to Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's server and tools business, last year as Azure went commercial. Since that time, partners and other Microsoft watchers have wondered what, specifically, Ozzie was up to and why there was so little public notice about what Bill Gates' successor was working on.
"As a business owner, I totally understand turnover. The underlying question is was it by choice or was it due to business direction change. If it's the latter I totally understand it," said Carl Mazzanti, CEO of eMazzanti, a Hoboken, N.J., Microsoft partner.
Others said that the exits of several high-ranking Microsoft execs in recent months point to some underlying upheaval at the company, which remains hugely profitable but is seen as a fading power in many precincts. Robbie Bach, who headed up the phone and entertainment effort, is leaving this fall as is J Allard, the former "Chief Experience Officer" who headed up Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division.
Add to that list Ozzie, whom Gates himself named his successor as chief software architect, and many wonder if Microsoft's culture is too hard on executives and rank-and-file employees alike. Some see Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's recent decisions to put Kurt DelBene in charge of Office after the departure of relative newcomer Stephen Elop, and Andy Lees atop the phone effort as a retrenchment of power to long-time Microsoft veterans -- and that is controversial among those who think Microsoft needs a shakeup.
"Personally, I wondered about Microsoft's direction when I heard that Ozzie was leaving. It's almost certainly a new 'initiative' since he is leaving but staying on for some unexplained amount of time. Maybe this is Ballmer's last chance, so he is making dramatic changes," said an executive for a Microsoft ISV partner in the mobility space.
Still personnel changes at that level do not typically affect how partner entities do business with the Microsoft mother ship.
"We view Microsoft as an impossibly large, immovable entity, so no matter what they do they will always be there for our business. Key technical personnel constantly change ships in Seattle, but there is little real change in the way business has been conducted there for at least the past five years," the mobile partner executive said.
Microsoft insiders said Ozzie's tenure was marked with contention with the powerful Windows and Office product groups, the leaders of which did not report to Ozzie. He was tasked with taking a company that was 100% focused on the sale of more and more software licenses for on-premises use to one that would be more cloud-focused. That move from big-bang upfront software license sales to a world of smaller, monthly subscription sales was disruptive to say the least.
And while Ballmer said all the right things vis-a-vis cloud computing, the corporate inertia -- even resistance to the move -- was strong, insiders say. For those critics, Ozzie did not exhibit the strong leadership needed to overcome those institutional roadblocks.