The impending retirement of Microsoft Corp.’s Jim Allchin and the movement of Ray Ozzie into a more senior position at the company provide a glimpse into the future for two of the software industry’s most recognizable names.

Allchin’s decision to call it quits in 2006, after the next client version of the Windows operating system (OS) ships, solidifies Windows Vista as the legacy for his work at Microsoft, analysts said.

This explains why the software executive has poured his heart and soul into making Windows Vista a significant improvement over the Windows XP said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, a research firm in San Jose.

“For Allchin, Vista is his end,” he said “Vista is his swan song. It’s the product he plans to use to showcase his career at Microsoft.”

Michael Gartenberg, vice-president and research director, Jupiter Research, agreed that Windows is “an impressive legacy to leave behind for the man who spent the last 16 years or so architecting this vision.”

Allchin joined Microsoft in 1990 and is credited with creating the contemporary Windows OS that has become ubiquitous on PCs. But the Jupiter analyst also had another, more pragmatic explanation for why Allchin is choosing to step away from Microsoft after Vista ships next year.

“I just suspect that other than doing another version of Windows, the man may have some other aspirations in life,” Gartenberg said.

While Allchin’s retirement will mark the end of an era, Ozzie’s appointment to oversee the services strategy of all three Microsoft divisions unveiled last month in a reorganization could represent a new era for Ozzie, the brainchild behind Lotus Notes and founder of Groove Networks.

Ozzie joined Microsoft in March as chief technology officer when the vendor bought Groove, but his role at the company has not been until now clearly defined, at least not in public.

According to Gartenberg, there are still unanswered questions about how Ozzie’s new role will play out, particularly because Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates still has such a major role in charting Microsoft’s technical course.

“[It’s still unclear] what roles Ray Ozzie is going to take vis a vis the role Gates has,” Gartenberg said. “Every time there are technical announcements, we’re still seeing Bill out there first and foremost, front and centre.”

Enderle, however, said Ozzie’s new position makes him a primary contender to be Gates’ heir apparent. “Ray Ozzie, who now has an oversight role second only to Bill Gates himself, is direct in line for Bill’s job,” said Enderle, who believes Gates will likely retire in about five years at the age of 55.

Enderle compared Ozzie to Linus Torvalds, as not only a technology visionary but also an advocate for developers. He said Microsoft may have placed Ozzie in such a key position to help them win over programmers who prefer Linux as a development platform over Windows.

“Microsoft [has] to be prepared for the future need to adopt certain behaviours that are much more in line with the people who develop and use software,” Enderle said. “That’s why Ozzie was selected for this role. He is a better analogue for Torvalds than anyone else — someone who can think like Torvalds from the Microsoft point of view to compete.”

He added that Ozzie also has a history of favouring employees over customers, so his new, more prominent role could help stymie the recent brain drain at Microsoft.

“With Microsoft bleeding a certain number of people to companies like Google, putting Ozzie in that position sends a message to employees that they will be loved,” Enderle said.

Groove was founded in 1997 by Ozzie. Groove’s Virtual Office client-side technology let users share files and work with data offline and securely collaborate over corporate firewalls.

Microsoft invested US$88 million in Groove since 2001 and plans to make Virtual Office the third leg of its collaboration stool, which includes real-time collaboration with Live Communication Server 2005 and Live Meeting 2005, server-based collaboration with SharePoint portal and team workspaces.

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