Microsoft's Achilles Heel is its greatest asset

According to Wired, Microsoft is the anti-Google. Both companies have their sights set on the cloud, but their approaches to getting there, and what they do once they get there, are fundamentally different.

To Google, the cloud is the computer. Who needs an office suite and a hard drive to store it on when Google has it all, safely tucked away in data centers and from all the 'dangers' of local system, only a click away. So long as you have internet access, that is.

Right now, the simple reality is that cloud apps just don't match what is available on the desktop, neither in form nor function. They have their advantages; portability, simplicity, and safety, but their abilities are basic compared to what local suites, like Microsoft Office or Apple's iWork, are capable of. This is where Microsoft believes their approach comes out as a clear winner.

Some might say that Microsoft isn't serious about the cloud. Kurt DelBene, the head of Microsoft's Office division, thinks that's a silly question. “We're as serious about the cloud as we are about evolving our businnesses,” he said. And yet Office Web Apps, which is available as part of Office 365, Microsoft's subscription based cloud service, as well as to consumers as part of SkyDrive, is far less capable than anything that users can get on their desktop.

DelBene says this doesn't have anything to do with cutting into Microsoft's bread and butter, namely selling copies of Windows and Office. “I tell my team specifically, do not worry about whether you're going to harm the viability of the Office applications.” It's all about offering users the most flexible and powerful experience possible, and only Microsoft is in a position to deliver that. They're the only ones who can deliver on the cloud and the desktop.

The great flexibility of the cloud comes from its portability. It's everywhere and nowhere at the same time, ready to beam down whatever files it's storing for us at a moments notice, wherever we might be, on whatever device we might be using at any given moment. Office 365 comes with tight integration to Microsoft's on-premises offerings, but DelBene doesn't think that it's any less flexible than Google Apps.

Most of the time, given a choice, users had rather get their work done using a full featured suite, but they also need the flexibility to be productive from anywhere, on any machine. Using web apps, whether they're from Microsoft or Google, they can get just that; the basic features they need when they don't have access to their main PC. On the other hand, that doesn't mean throwing away all of the features offered by the desktop in favor for a more flexible but less powerful experience in the cloud. Microsoft is offering the best of both worlds.

“That kind of occasional use is something we think web applications are actually quite good at,” DelBene said. “In most cases, we do see almost everybody goes to the web apps, but they use the rich clients [desktop applications] as well.”

Google scoffs. “Microsoft is trying to extend its client-server model to the Web, which is a very hard thing to do. Google Apps is based on entirely modern technologies designed for today's world." Yet Microsoft keeps on marching, and it remains to be seen whether its out of fear for its current business model, or because it knows that its approach will win out in the end.

ZDNet's Joe McKendrick compares Microsoft's current position to that of IBM in the '80s and '90s. Even though it made most of its money selling mainframes (think Windows, or Office), IBM chose to market itself as everything from a PC company to an UNIX company. In the end, IBM finally realized where its greatest strength lay, and managed to keep that strength relevant, even in today's world of tiny, integrated systems.

Maybe Microsoft already knows this. Right now most users, even if they do make heavy use of the cloud, depend on their desktop or laptop to get most of their work done, and to get them into the cloud. It just so happens that most of these devices are powered by Microsoft's software. In Google's approach, the hardware becomes little more than a dumb terminal, used to access their content in the cloud. But perhaps that's not a route that businesses are quite ready to take.

Just maybe Microsoft's greatest strength, which happens to be what some consider its greatest weakness, a supposedly shrinking business, will turn out to be its greatest asset to cloud dominance.

Storm clouds are brewing (pun absolutely intentional), however, and an epic battle is brewing, and the victory, whether it's Microsoft, Google, or some unknown waiting in the shadows, is far from clear.

Image courtesy of CIO

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Cloud is the future.

We will see many new business models spring up because of cloud offerings.. I'm talking in industries that are so far from technology most readers here couldn't even conceive the idea.

When you take the infrastructure investment behind even the smallest startup, and remove it; you will see many many many more industries moving toward cloud.

The cloud is just good for online apps, not good for storage. No body want their files to be read illegally anyways. Traditional desktop will still move on. Over the years, most new concepts are just hype. They eventually come back to the old fashion things.

My prediction: Tablet is hot now? ok. In the future, there will be a unification btw laptop and tablet. We will have lap-let.

Microsoft's Achilies Heel is, and for most of its history, has been Active X (and whatever other names they have used to hide it).

From WAREZ forums in the mid 1990s to now, THAT is the main reason why, in spite of all the paid articles to the contrary...

Windows Patches and Patches, but never seems to FIX all their little holes...

Seems no one now, has ever heard of Buffer Overflow...

And, computer media would not DARE to say how many times that patchwork problem has been patched (NOT FIXED)...

Nor will they mentions the number of minutes each software release is out, before it needs patching, again.

The do not mention one other item of auditing, either...

How many times the phrase 'an old problem' got any 'journalist' b***h slapped.

" It's all about offering users the most flexible and powerful experience possible, and only Microsoft is in a position to deliver that. They're the only ones who can deliver on the cloud and the desktop."

+1

Cloud as a supplement to native applications and data is where Cloud works best and where Cloud should stay. Sync and etc.

Building your applications and having your data storage singularly in the Cloud is possibly the most idiotic move you could ever make. Not really surprising that companies like Google are the ones at the forefront of this "Cloud-dependant" ecosystem.

Athernar said,
Cloud as a supplement to native applications and data is where Cloud works best and where Cloud should stay. Sync and etc.

Building your applications and having your data storage singularly in the Cloud is possibly the most idiotic move you could ever make. Not really surprising that companies like Google are the ones at the forefront of this "Cloud-dependant" ecosystem.

I agree. Using the cloud for sync and "anywhere" acess is a fine feature but there is no way I'd trust "the cloud" to be the sole storage for my all company's data. There are too many questions remaining around security and privacy for me to make that kind of move.

The cloud is great, if you think Google is good at searching for stuff on the web, how easy do you think it will be for them to search through your personal files? Has anyone asked that question? Does that ability exist? Just curious.

I dont doubt that 'some parts of the cloud' are the future - and in the future we can only hope that desktops will be smaller/faster/more reliable, but I would NEVER relinquish all of my control to the cloud. Depending on the work you do and what you choose to store there, yes that could be a viable option, but to put so much trust and faith into 'the cloud' with it storing/analyzing and god knows doing what else to my data... No way.

The iPad looks cool and everything but it will never replace a real desktop or laptop besides that virutal storage cant replace the real physical thing. I agree with you +KomaWeiss unless those phone and internet companies get off there high horse and bandwidth becomes unlimited Cloud is crap.

I prefer Apple's approach to the cloud, native applications with data storage in the cloud. Web apps are nice but I don't like using them when doing serious work.

Xero said,
I prefer Apple's approach to the cloud, native applications with data storage in the cloud. Web apps are nice but I don't like using them when doing serious work.

Ummm SkyDrive is fully integrated into Windows 8 so the same concept applies for Microsoft applications.

Xero said,
I prefer Apple's approach to the cloud, native applications with data storage in the cloud. Web apps are nice but I don't like using them when doing serious work.

Microsoft provides both - web applications that are stripped down 'on the go' and native applications that hook into the cloud. I'd argue that Microsoft is already ahead of the curb when it comes to providing functionality - the only thing lacking right now is the momentum, marketing and explanation as to the benefits of such a technology.

Mr Nom Nom's said,

Microsoft provides both - web applications that are stripped down 'on the go' and native applications that hook into the cloud. I'd argue that Microsoft is already ahead of the curb when it comes to providing functionality - the only thing lacking right now is the momentum, marketing and explanation as to the benefits of such a technology.

I use Office 365 and it's great, but people get confused when I tell them what it does.

Xero said,
I prefer Apple's approach to the cloud

Me too, as a Consumer. Buying Amazon C2 and Azure to power their cloud services really shows that cloud is not ready for primetime. /s

I prefer having local access to my information. I don't dislike the cloud, but I don't like the idea of having to rely on the internet to access my data. Any of the files I have on SkyDrive, I also have on my local machine. Best of both worlds.

MFH said,
Cloud = the "future" I will never be a part of…

you just posted on a blog that is not stored on your harddrive.. so you just took part in it..

Lachlan said,
you just posted on a blog that is not stored on your harddrive.. so you just took part in it..

There's a huge difference in context between a comment on a website and your business/personal files on your computer.

Lachlan said,

you just posted on a blog that is not stored on your harddrive.. so you just took part in it..


You know the difference between a blog post and an important document, right?

Lachlan said,

you just posted on a blog that is not stored on your harddrive.. so you just took part in it..


Oh noes! How will I put bread on my table now when my troll comment stored in the 'cloud' gets deleted?

I can think of pros and cos for the implementations from both M$ and Google. Personally I prefer M$' offerings as they have the power of a desktop client, and the ready-to-go offerings of SkyDrive/Office365.

@JAB: For people with insensitive data, having Google look at it may not be a problem. I can't say for sure, but I wouldn't think a data center would run RAID-0 only.

UseLess said,
@JAB: For people with insensitive data, having Google look at it may not be a problem. I can't say for sure, but I wouldn't think a data center would run RAID-0 only.

No, my point was simply how easy it is for a corporation to have an excuse to permanently deny access to your own data regardless of it's context or sensitivity.

JAB Creations said,

No, my point was simply how easy it is for a corporation to have an excuse to permanently deny access to your own data regardless of it's context or sensitivity.

The DOJ would never allow TOS that would not let you have access to your data.

KingCrimson said,
The DOJ would never allow TOS that would not let you have access to your data.
I don't trust this particular DOJ to have that control.

JAB Creations said,

No, my point was simply how easy it is for a corporation to have an excuse to permanently deny access to your own data regardless of it's context or sensitivity.

But also remember that when you are using Microsoft Cloud on your business, you get your own personal encryption key, that the company doesn't save for you, so technically data is more secure. This I think is a pretty cool feature, knowing that a corporation can't just be scanning your sensitive data.

You should also always have a backup elsewhere anyways! It could happen that for some reason the deny you access to your data, but as any other company or hardware that you use in your company, there is a chance that your data may go south...

Thanks,

KingCrimson said,

The DOJ would never allow TOS that would not let you have access to your data.

Sure they would? Ever hear of SOPA? That is exactly what people are complaining about with it. Someone claims your infringing on their work and everything attached to your server is gone without anything that you can personally do about it. If people that you didn't even have a TOS with can legally destroy your online property, what makes you think someone that you make have a TOS with can't?

So if the cloud is the future what is the cloud?

Here: have all my files and I'll keep no copies of my own.

Gee, you can rewrite your TOS any time you want?

Warrants to search my data on your drives? Peh, who needs a warrant?

Yeah, the cloud, sounds reliable if you say think running a business on a hundred drive RAID 0 is reliable.

Yup, and this laziness is locking you into relying on one corporation or the other. Once you have uploaded your data, you're locked. That's the goal of all this cloud crap.

There's not much money to be made from cloud storage. It's the other apps that come with it that they can make money out of.

Ultimately, Windows will go the direction of Chrome OS - being nearly free and all. It's inevitable because the competitors are forcing MS to do so.

Jebadiah said,
Ultimately, Windows will go the direction of Chrome OS - being nearly free and all. It's inevitable because the competitors are forcing MS to do so.

Everyone's disposition to Windows has decreased since Vista, 7 just removed more stuff and 8 morphs Windows in to an OS tailored for tablet toy devices.

What is going to happen over the course of the next twenty years is the migration away from Windows as a whole as Microsoft continues to alienate their previous customers. You'll see more people moving to either Apple or Linux and a large segment of the market remain with older more competent versions. I honestly don't see Google making even a negligibly market share in the desktop OS.

Programmers are best off programming in cross-platform languages though I'd stay the heck away from Java (now) because of Oracle's monopolistic consumption of Sun.

JAB Creations said,
So if the cloud is the future what is the cloud?

Here: have all my files and I'll keep no copies of my own.

Gee, you can rewrite your TOS any time you want?

Warrants to search my data on your drives? Peh, who needs a warrant?

Yeah, the cloud, sounds reliable if you say think running a business on a hundred drive RAID 0 is reliable.

Or the worst, they can delete all your file at whim.

Jebadiah said,

Ultimately, Windows will go the direction of Chrome OS - being nearly free and all. It's inevitable because the competitors are forcing MS to do so.

yeah, I find that sad. Windows 8 is what it is because of the ****ing ipad and the whole tablet fad - even when these tablets SUCK and aren't great at all. They're useless!

JAB Creations said,

Everyone's disposition to Windows has decreased since Vista, 7 just removed more stuff and 8 morphs Windows in to an OS tailored for tablet toy devices.

What is going to happen over the course of the next twenty years is the migration away from Windows as a whole as Microsoft continues to alienate their previous customers. You'll see more people moving to either Apple or Linux and a large segment of the market remain with older more competent versions. I honestly don't see Google making even a negligibly market share in the desktop OS.

Programmers are best off programming in cross-platform languages though I'd stay the heck away from Java (now) because of Oracle's monopolistic consumption of Sun.

Hasn't 7 been a success? And yes they're working on Windows 8 for tablets, that doesn't mean they aren't going to do anything about the desktop. Yours is just wishful thinking. People going to Apple? Apple is alienating its own users too. Same goes with Ubuntu, the main Linux distro.

FalseAgent said,

yeah, I find that sad. Windows 8 is what it is because of the ****ing ipad and the whole tablet fad - even when these tablets SUCK and aren't great at all. They're useless!

I have to agree - why pay more for a heavily toned-down device? The only advantage a tablet has to a desktop is a touch screen and portability. It also lacks high processing power, modularity, and arguably, a less intuitive interface.

What I mean by that is, in most tablet devices, gestures are used to perform actions. But in different applications, these gestures perform different actions. And some gestures are similar to others, etc. What I'm getting at here is efficiency. Compared to a conventional mouse-and-keyboard input style, a touch-screen interface is significantly slower for performing the same actions.

Don't believe me? Well then, ask yourself this question: do you need to see your keyboard right now to type this response? Could you do it as quickly on a tablet?

I'd be willing to bet on an action-time basis, a desktop or laptop computer will beat out a tablet computer for the number of actions performed per unit-time in nearly every single application. I also believe Fitts' Law supports this argument.

Back to the cloud, what business in their right mind would keep confidential information outside of their own facility (regardless of security)? Computers are getting cheaper and cheaper, so why are people becoming less reluctant to buy and use their own?

The world baffles me.

JAB Creations said,
So if the cloud is the future what is the cloud?

Here: have all my files and I'll keep no copies of my own.

Gee, you can rewrite your TOS any time you want?

Warrants to search my data on your drives? Peh, who needs a warrant?

Yeah, the cloud, sounds reliable if you say think running a business on a hundred drive RAID 0 is reliable.

Windows Azure storage has 6x geolocation redundancy with automatic recovery in case of failure in 1-5 datacenters. A little better than RAID-n on under your office desk. On house /office fire and you're screwed. If Azure loses your data you won't mind because you will be too busy avoiding the zombie horde. ;-)

Breakthrough said,

I have to agree - why pay more for a heavily toned-down device? The only advantage a tablet has to a desktop is a touch screen and portability. It also lacks high processing power, modularity, and arguably, a less intuitive interface.

What I mean by that is, in most tablet devices, gestures are used to perform actions. But in different applications, these gestures perform different actions. And some gestures are similar to others, etc. What I'm getting at here is efficiency. Compared to a conventional mouse-and-keyboard input style, a touch-screen interface is significantly slower for performing the same actions.

Don't believe me? Well then, ask yourself this question: do you need to see your keyboard right now to type this response? Could you do it as quickly on a tablet?

I'd be willing to bet on an action-time basis, a desktop or laptop computer will beat out a tablet computer for the number of actions performed per unit-time in nearly every single application. I also believe Fitts' Law supports this argument.

Back to the cloud, what business in their right mind would keep confidential information outside of their own facility (regardless of security)? Computers are getting cheaper and cheaper, so why are people becoming less reluctant to buy and use their own?

The world baffles me.

How do I take my desktop with me. Sure, I can take my notebook but that is already a trade off in processing and storage... though not to the level of a tablet. Also, the tablet is being marketed at the smartphone "generation."

As for cloud storage. I have never met a company that does not do offsite backup. They may or may not own their own facilities, but it is not truly "on site."

FalseAgent said,

yeah, I find that sad. Windows 8 is what it is because of the ****ing ipad and the whole tablet fad - even when these tablets SUCK and aren't great at all. They're useless!

Actually, Microsoft was working in this direction since the 90s with so-called "Activity Centers" developed in the "Neptune" interface they were developing early on in Windows XP. It was half-baked so ended not shipping, but the ideas worked its way into Windows Media Center. Then the Media Center interface worked its way into Zune. And eventually the Zune interface worked its way onto the Windows Phone.

But the original design goal for a full screen, task-oriented, friendly interface was not for tablet computing but simply to be consumer friendly. Many novice users still find Windows to be intimidating to use, including the Start menu, which is just a bunch of programs dumped into a list.

Tablets have just been the latest excuse for Microsoft to push the concept.