Microsoft's chief software architect, who was handpicked by Bill Gates as his own successor, is just 18 months into the job. Depending on who you ask, Ray Ozzie's tenure will either signal a bold new era for the company or mark the beginning of its terminal decline.

From the perspective of Microsoft shareholders, the picture certainly looks grim.

After a decade of timid stock performance, the fiscal year that ended June 2009 saw Microsoft's net revenue decrease for the first time in its history. It also announced its first-ever layoffs and has since exceeded its original estimate of 5,000 redundancies.

But worst of all, for the first time in recent memory, Microsoft confronts a rival of goliath proportions that actually seems capable of going the distance with the software giant.

That rival, of course, is Google, and the search leader's relentless expansion is battering Microsoft on virtually every front.

Taking the war online

Google's emphasis on the web as an application platform challenges the primacy of PC software and operating systems, Microsoft's traditional cash cows.

Its forays into mobile devices call into question the very concept of desktop computing.

Its web-based services and open source software fly in the face of Microsoft's core business model. Philosophically speaking, Google is the anti-Microsoft - and it's making a killing at it.

By comparison, the world's largest software vendor has adapted poorly to the changing market landscape.

On the web, Internet Explorer is dead last in standards compliance, and its critical security flaws sometimes go unpatched for months. Windows Mobile claims just 7.9 percent of the smartphone market, and according to Gartner, sales are slowing.

Microsoft's vaunted new search service, Bing, has won few converts from Google, except where Microsoft has strong-armed them into using it.

In short, while it may be first in desktop software, Microsoft's track record outside its comfort zone has been fairly dismal, enough so that in 2007, venture capitalist Paul Graham declared: "Microsoft is dead".

'Software plus services'

But Ray Ozzie has a plan. With the Windows division back on track and new version of Office set to debut this year, 'software plus services' is the new mantra at Microsoft's Redmond headquarters.

It marks a strategic shift that will transform everything about the company, from how it develops, markets, and deploys software to its relationships with its customers.

Ozzie doesn't want to beat Google at its own game; rather, he wants to remind Google that the software game has been and remains Microsoft's.

But to succeed, he's going to have to rewrite Microsoft's rulebook along the way.

NEXT PAGE: Ozzie rules

  1. Just what has Ray Ozzie got up his sleeve
  2. Ozzie rules
  3. Taking Office to the web
  4. All roads lead to SharePoint
  5. Microsoft's datacenters are your datacenters
  6. More than just a technical shift
  7. Too big to succeed?