As far as I’m concerned, one of the most interesting topics to speculate about in all of personal technology is the fate of Windows in an increasingly Internet-centric world. And Steve Ballmer just gave us more fodder to chew on: This IDG News Service story says that the Microsoft CEO told attendees at a London conference that Microsoft will announce something code-named Windows Cloud in about a month. (That timing would coincide neatly with PDC, Microsoft’s big annual conference for software developers.)
The IDG story describes Windows Cloud as an operating system, but I’m assuming it’s not an OS that’s in any way akin to Windows as we know it as a desktop OS. Rather, it’s more likely a development platform and/or set of services for Net-based apps, possibly in the same vein as some of the stuff Amazon is doing with its Web Services offerings, which are used by lots of significant consumer services. (See Ina Fried’s story at Cnet News for more on this idea.)
Windows Cloud is presumably also not the same thing as Midori, the research project involving a post-Windows hybrid desktop/Net OS that Microsoft has acknowledged that it’s working on. And I assume that it’s not a world-changing breakthrough of any sort–if it were, Steve Ballmer wouldn’t be casually discussing it in passing at a conference in London. Probably.
All of which still leaves me wondering what Windows Cloud is, how it relates to Windows, and whether it’s anything a consumer needs to care about. (The whole point of Amazon Web Services is that they should be something that the people who use services built on top of them never notice are there, though they occasionally make the news anyhow.)
To date, I haven’t heard anybody at Microsoft clearly articulate what Windows is as it moves beyond the desktop onto the Internet–not Ballmer, not Bill Gates, not chief software architect Ray Ozzie. And the most prominent form of Net-based Windows–the portfolio of Windows Live services–still just don’t have much of a relationship to Windows the OS.
The IDG News story also reports that Ballmer said that Microsoft is working on a Web-based version of Office that allows for “light” editing, has him dismissing Google Docs, and says that people want software that’s more powerful than can be run in a browser. I just failed to open a pretty straightforward file in Google Docs, so I’m entirely receptive to the idea that neither Google Docs nor any other Web suite is ready to replace Office for power users just yet.
But the race between Office and Google Docs isn’t about how good a Web suite can be today–it’s about how good they’ll be two, three, five years from now. To crib from Wayne Gretzky’s famous advice, surely Ballmer and Microsoft are trying to skate to where the puck will be, not where it is right now. I’m tempted to think that Ballmer talked about a stripped-down Web version of Office and knocked the very idea of browser-based suites because Microsoft is actually working on a full-blown Web version of Office–especially since the company has been investing in technologies that might make that possible.
Like I say, it’s fun to speculate about this stuff. I plan to be at PDC, and I think there’s a good chance we’ll learn things there that help to clarify Microsoft’s vision for its cash cows and the Web. Stay tuned for further thoughts…