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Sunday, August 26, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ray Ozzie | Collaborative leader has "coaching style"

On the last day of April, Ray Ozzie stepped in front of a large audience of Web developers — the first time he'd spoken to a crowd of that size as a representative of Microsoft — to deliver a new technology developed under his term as chief software architect.

Silverlight, technology for delivering video on the Web, got a positive early reaction from the crowd.

S. Somasegar, who heads Microsoft's Developer Division, said after the speech that he had worked closely with Ozzie in the previous nine months on Silverlight.

He described Ozzie as open and collaborative with "a coaching style of leadership." He said Ozzie has told him that the best discussions are brainstorms at the white board, not scripted PowerPoint presentations.

"If you have an idea, no matter whether it is good or bad or ugly, or whatever it is, you can go talk to Ray about it," Somasegar said. "... People are more open to talking to him and being able to bounce ideas back and forth."

Somasegar, a veteran Microsoft executive, also praised Ozzie's technical acumen and interest in getting his hands on the products — even relatively small features.

A specific technology in Silverlight that allows smooth zooming in and out of images caught Ozzie's attention.

Silverlight was meant to be a light, easily downloaded piece of software, but the zooming technology required too many lines of code to meet that goal, Somasegar said.

Ozzie and a few members of his staff set about reducing the amount of code in the feature. They were ultimately able to reduce it to about one-tenth of its original size, Somasegar said. "And Ray personally had a lot of impact on that work."

Ozzie, who does few interviews and prefers not to talk about products or features that aren't finished yet, downplayed his own involvement in the effort, crediting his team instead.

The team considered whether the feature was worth the amount of space it required — a balance fundamental to software development.

"It's amazing what people can be motivated to do to get it down when they want to," Ozzie said in an interview in May.

Some observers expect Ozzie to apply that philosophy to all of Microsoft's products — particularly Windows, criticized as bloated and cumbersome — in his role as chief software architect.

"Ray Ozzie has an extremely difficult task," said Mark Anderson, a Friday Harbor technology analyst. "How to defensively protect the company from catastrophe with that much code, and how to create new products and new teams in a world that complex."

— Benjamin J. Romano

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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