Don Ferguson bears what may be a unique distinction. He has the held lofty title of "Fellow," a title associated with being a distinguished technologist, at not only IBM but Microsoft as well. Last year, Ferguson left IBM, where he had participated in development of the company's WebSphere middleware platform, to come to Microsoft. He is a technical fellow in the Microsoft Office of the CTO. InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill met with Ferguson at the Microsoft SOA and Business Process in Washington this week to talk about Microsoft, including the company's new Oslo modeling and services project, and IBM.
You mentioned this morning that you had been at IBM and that you left about nine months ago?
Apparently that doesn't happen too often where an IBM Fellow leaves the company.
It's very rare.
Why did you leave?
There's a few reasons. I had worked for IBM for 20 years, and I turned 45 at the same time. So I sat down and thought -- what am I going to do? I have 20 more years in the industry if I work to 65, exactly at the midpoint. It's time to think about what to do next. And there were a lot of things I could have done next that were very exciting about IBM, but I decided that if I was going to make a change it needed to be a really big change.
What was IBM's reaction to your going to Microsoft?
I don't know. It seems like the kind of thing you should ask them, not me.
You mentioned this morning that there was speculation that you were a double agent. Was that all just humor?
It was humor. I think most people's reaction mirrored mine, which is I felt a terrible sense of loss. Not that it was really anything, it's just you suddenly go from having worked with these same people for 10 years to seeing them a couple times a year when they come into town.
What are your responsibilities at Microsoft?
I'm in the Office of the CTO, [with] David Vaskevitch, so I think in general about the implications of technology trends on Microsoft's product portfolio over the very long horizon. An example of this is obviously the modeling because modeling will play out in the relatively near term. It already has. And it'll also play out in the long term.
You mentioned this morning that you had been involved in the development of IBM WebSphere. Could you talk a little bit about what brought on the need for WebSphere, and did you see any irony in going to probably the only major software vendor that doesn't have an app server?
Well, I'm not sure that I would say that Microsoft doesn't have an app server.
Microsoft is certainly not a big Java proponent.
Well, there's a difference between an app server and Java. CICS on the mainframe is an app server. It was an app server for a long time, but it wasn't in Java. It has Java now, but it was an app server. So app server doesn't equal Java. App server is a specific structure. It fills a specific role, and not necessarily Java. It's not necessarily based on Java. So I'm not sure I would agree that Microsoft doesn't have an app server.
Which Microsoft product is positioned in the app server space?
It surfaces itself in a few ways. I'm only beginning to completely get my mind around what we do. Internet Information Server is certainly part of it.