Microsoft has traditionally been a company that sells packaged software for personal computers. However, as several companies have recently created online environments for running applications, Microsoft has quickly changed their strategy to compete with this new model (which is now often called “cloud computing”). As described in MIT’s Technology Review, “a computing cloud is made by linking together any number of generic Intel-class computers so that they act like a single large, distributed computing platform. And, an application running on a cloud can more easily scale up for larger audiences and is more resistant to failure.” This makes cloud computing economical, reliable, and scalable. Also, cloud-based applications are typically easily accessed using a web browser.
Microsoft has started small, by simply integrating several of their online applications into a common area: www.live.com. This area includes mail, messenger, and Internet storage components. Their next step will be to create basic services that others can build applications around. These services will probably be revealed in the cloud based-operating system that Microsoft plans to announce in the upcoming weeks. However, as previously mentioned, Microsoft will not be the first to provide an online application environment. Amazon’s EC2, Salesforce.com’s Force.com, and Google’s AppEngine platform already provide cloud-based environments and already have a number of applications created for their platforms. However, most of these environments are still fairly limited in what they can do.
One difference between Microsoft and the other cloud computing providers is that Microsoft will likely try to leverage its significant resources in the packaged software arena. As Computerworld reports, Microsoft envisions a setting where desktop applications are augmented by Web-based functionality. For example, people might do the bulk of word processing using desktop software and then do light editing of Office documents using other devices such as public Internet kiosks.
The Financial Times reports that many users may be drawn to the cloud model because it will enable them to pay low monthly subscription rates for applications, based on how much they use the applications. These applications will also require less maintenance from users (for example, updates will be run from the providers end) since they will not be installed on clients’ computers.
Stay tuned for the Microsoft announcement of its cloud OS in the coming weeks. If successful, it will likely change the way that you interact with their dominant workplace applications in the not so distant future.