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Microsoft’s Cloud Ambitions Remain Foggy

By - Source: Toms IT Pro
James Alan Miller

James Alan Miller is Managing Editor of Tom's IT Pro. He is a veteran technology journalist with over seventeen years of experience creating and developing magazine and online content. Founding editor of numerous business and enterprise computing sites at the network, James headed up the After Hours section at PC Magazine, as well as hardware and software sections of various Windows publications.

Will Windows 8 crystallize Microsoft’s plans to reconcile local and Cloud business computing?

Microsoft started previewing Windows 8 at the D9 Conference back in June. At the time, it asserted that a Windows 8 PC would be a new kind of device, as they are reimagining Windows "from the chip to the interface" scaling from small touchscreen displays (tablets) to large screens. As most of us still haven't gotten our mitts on an early-release of the operating system, how Microsoft achieves these goals remains to be seen. Meanwhile, while Redmond’s talked a lot about Windows 8, it hasn’t been all that forthcoming with technical details.

Nor has the company adequately explained how the new operating system relates to its major Cloud-based products, Office 365 and Windows Azure, both of which are extremely relevant to IT pros. The former essentially brings Microsoft Office’s productivity and collaborative tools to the Web. The latter is a Platform as a Service (PaaS) that lets companies build, scale and host applications through Microsoft data centers.

In the new “Building Windows 8” or "B8" blog, Steven Sinofsky, president of the Microsoft’s Windows and Windows Live division, revealed that developers will receive an overview of the tools and capabilities inside Windows 8 at the company's BUILD conference next month. Pre-release versions of Windows 8 will likely start to emerge in the months after that event. 

Perhaps, when we learn more about Windows 8, Microsoft will clarify how it intends to reconcile and market the somewhat paradoxical approaches local and Cloud bring to business computing. The two very different hardware and software paradigms can co-exist and complement each other, but Microsoft has yet to clearly present its vision of when and where one or the other (or even both) are the best option for companies.

Either they’re hedging their bets or, worse, they simply haven’t figured it out yet. Whatever the reason, they better do it quickly. This delay could hurt them in the Cloud if they don’t move fast enough.

It is also important that Microsoft’s Cloud products assume the smooth look, feel and polish of their PC solutions. Anyone who’s used Office 365 knows what I am talking about. Although a useful service that goes a long way towards making Microsoft Office more collaborative, the interface is somewhat clunky and buggy, and performance isn’t where it should be.

True, Office 365 does interface nicely with Office 2010, doing a good job of bridging the gap between Cloud and local computing. What would be better is if, with Windows 8, Microsoft developed a light-weight Cloud terminal that removes the browser from the picture. Resource-hungry Web browsers aren't the best way to do business-based Cloud computing

Sinofsky compares the changes in store with Windows 8 to those implemented with Windows 95, which he refers as "the last time Windows was significantly overhauled." At that time, the desktop was king, but "today more than two out of three PCs are mobile (laptops, netbooks, notebooks, tablets, slates, convertibles, etc.)."

All of that is true, and it'll be interesting to see how Microsoft addresses the changing marketplace with Windows 8. But with millions of businesses finally upgrading from XP in 2011 after the debacle that was Vista, and with Windows 7 an unqualified success with over 400-million licenses sold, Microsoft may find itself running into some resistance from companies strapped for cash while recovering from the Great Recession.

Not only is 2011 PC technology different than 1995, so are the economic realities faced by most IT professionals tasked with buying and managing PCs, and not for the better. 

Furthermore, considering how important the Cloud is to the present and future of computing, and to Microsoft specifically, you would think that there would be more than one Cloud mention on the B8 blog in the nine days since its launch. You’d also think that Windows Azure or Office 365 would have been mentioned at least once already.

Maybe Microsoft’s saving those topics for a raining day. It better hope that when that day comes, it isn’t too little too late.