Ray Ozzie -- the creator of Lotus Notes who had a successful five-year run at Microsoft -- stands ready to leave his next mark on the industry, this time with his nearly year-old startup Talko (formerly Cocomo), a venture funded by $4 million from investors and shrouded in secrecy.
It's hard to tell exactly what the company is up to given Ozzie's silence, but there are a few clues among some job postings the company made and a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in which Ozzie is listed as CEO.
A job posting from earlier this year reads in part, "a handful of us are just starting work on a new communications product for this new world. ... We aspire to deliver compelling tools for social interaction that people will use, value and love." The posting was for a user experience/user interface designer to fit with the development team they already had in place. Candidates should have interests in email, SMS, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. They should also be drawn to "[o]ur multi-faceted identities, and issues of privacy & openness," and the "social anthropology of our ever-growing use of mobile."
The person the company was looking to hire would have "a minimum of several years of experience designing, building and delivering mobile apps on platforms such as iPhone, iPad, and Android" the posting says.
Talko started off as Cocomo, which is shorthand for constructive cost model, which is a way to estimate the cost of software development projects. But other applicable words include communication, coordination, conversation and coherence, Ozzie said in an interview earlier this year with the Boston Globe.
Ozzie had a string of successes at Microsoft during his tenure there from 2005 to the end of 2010. A year into that run, Bill Gates left the post of chief software architect and appointed Ozzie. Two years later at Microsoft's TechReady conference for engineers, Ozzie introduced two of the projects he had been working on: Red Dog, now Windows Azure Web services, and Live Mesh, a synchronization app for PCs now being replaced by SkyDrive cloud storage.
Ozzie also founded Microsoft Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs, a select team of researchers developing social networking and real-time platforms for creating rich media and collaborating. It was the creative force behind Microsoft's Socl website recently launched in beta where people with common interests can connect and post collages of things that interest them.
This social connecting and collaborating via the Web and the cloud fits with the vision Ozzie left with co-workers at Microsoft after he decided to leave in 2010. And it could offer some insight into what he might be up to now with Talko.
In his Oct. 28 farewell memo from that year he says, "We're moving toward a world of 1) cloud-based continuous services that connect us all and do our bidding, and 2) appliance-like connected devices enabling us to interact with those cloud-based services." Later in the same email he says, "But there's one key difference in tomorrow's devices: they're relatively simple and fundamentally appliance-like by design, from birth. They're instantly usable, interchangeable, and trivially replaceable without loss."
While that seems similar to the status quo at the time, he drew a difference. "At first blush, this world of continuous services and connected devices doesn't seem very different than today," he wrote. "But those who build, deploy and manage today's websites understand viscerally that fielding a truly continuous service is incredibly difficult and is only achieved by the most sophisticated high-scale consumer websites. And those who build and deploy application fabrics targeting connected devices understand how challenging it can be to simply & reliably just 'sync' or 'stream'. To achieve these seemingly simple objectives will require dramatic innovation in human interface, hardware, software and services."
Ozzie came to Microsoft when it bought another of his startups, Groove Networks, in 2005. Its software platform called Groove provided shared workspaces where individuals could collaborate on documents and also provided private workspaces for each member to work on the same documents privately. As part of Office 2013, Groove is called SkyDrive Pro.
Before Groove, Ozzie worked at Lotus Development in the early 1980s, but left to start Iris Associates, which developed what became Lotus Notes after Lotus bought Iris in 1994. A year later, IBM bought Lotus, with an important part of the deal being that Ozzie stay on for the transition. Then IBM CEO Lou Gerstner personally visited Ozzie to convince him to stick around.
Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.
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