Ray Ozzie, the Microsoft executive who has been the traditional software giant’s face as it refocuses on cloud computing, is stepping down from his role as chief software architect.

The company announced Ozzie’s departure through an internal email today that was also published on the Microsoft website. Chief executive Steve Ballmer credited Ozzie with thinking up and launching the company’s cloud computing service, Windows Azure (a launch that Microsoft announced with the phrase, “Hello cloud”), and more broadly with pushing Microsoft into the cloud:

This past March marked a significant milestone for the company when, in a speech at the University of Washington, I sent a message to the world that we’re ‘all in’ when it comes to the cloud. In that speech I noted that Ray’s Internet Services Disruption memo nearly five years ago, and his work since, stimulated thinking across the company and helped catalyze our drive to the cloud.

As a company, we’ve accomplished much in the past five years as we look at the cloud and services. Windows Live now serves as a natural web-based services complement to both Windows and Office. SharePoint and Exchange have now decidedly embraced the cloud. And by conceiving, incubating and shepherding Windows Azure, Ray helped ensure we have a tremendously rich platform foundation that will enable app-level innovation across the company and by customers for years to come.

Ballmer said Ozzie will remain in his current role for a transition period, then he will be “focusing his efforts in the broader area of entertainment.” The email implies that Ozzie’s time in Microsoft’s entertainment team will also be limited, but that Ozzie has no plans for what comes afterwards.

Ozzie joined Microsoft a little more than five years ago, when Microsoft acquired his company Groove Networks, and he replaced Microsoft founder Bill Gates as the “chief software architect”, namely the executive responsible for setting the company’s technical direction. His appointment was seen as a needed injection of fresh blood. Wired, for example, featured Ozzie in a cover story about his plans to “push Microsoft back into startup mode.”

If nothing else, it looks like Ozzie’s new role is giving him more time to blog.

[image via AllThingsDigital]

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