Despite the huge announcement of this cloud computing development platform last week, the blogoshpere has been relatively quiet.  Now we’ve had a little time to reflect, what does Windows Azure really mean for cloud computing?  What will it mean for the future of web and software development, as well as the future of computing?

If you are so inclined, you can read a lot of glossy bumf in the Windows Azure factsheet which doesn’t really tell you a great deal.  One key message to take from it, however, is this one:

Windows Azure is an open platform that will support both Microsoft and non-Microsoft languages and environments.

It will certainly be easier for software developers to make cloud-based applications.  Not only that, but there will finally be some kind of universal standard for the development of all things web-based. This is exactly what we were discussing a few weeks ago – if cloud computing is going to support mass adoption (and I think it will) then Microsoft has made a massive coup and “leapfrogged” the market again. A cross-environment cloud computing platform from Microsoft is just what the doctor ordered.

Concerns

Putting cloud computing into the spotlight means that Microsoft will inevitably draw fire from the doubters and conspiracy theorists.  These sorts of comments are highlighted as being all the more ridiculous when we read on message boards things like: “Call me paranoid, but all I see in the ‘cloud’ is a future of oppressive information oligarchs. No silver lining to this one methinks” (that from the PC Pro forum) and less intense comments like: “Keep control of your data… keep it on your own desktop!” (Times Online feedback)

Call me paranoid, but all I see in the ‘cloud’ is a future of oppressive information oligarchs.

As ever, most of the negatives come fom people who don’t really know what they’re talking about.  The unknown breeds fear and the idea of having your personal data looked after by someone in some ethereal and indiscrete “cloud” gives some people the willies if they think about it for too long.  But this is this no more a leap of faith than storing data electronically on your own system rather than physically in a notepad or book.

There is also the question of where this leaves Windows 7.  What will it look like?  With all this emphasis on the cloud and fallout from Vista (perceived as needlessly flabby and clumsy) we can expect Windows 7 to be a stripped-down, cleaner on-site operating system.  But will this deter users from using open-source alternatives like Linux for their earth-bound operating system, which may increasingly come to be used for the sole purpose of booting up the computer and managing on-system resources?  If Microsoft plays its cards right, they should squeeze out as much revenue as possible from what may be their last few user-hosted operating systems packages.  And if Windows 7 proves to be stable, lean and reliable, there may never be the mass switch to Linux that some industry insiders predict.  We should remember that XP is so old it is quickly becoming a “legacy” OS, and yet according to Wikipedia, “as of the end of September 2008, Windows XP is the most widely used operating system in the world with a 69% market share, having peaked at 85% in December 2006.”

There may never be the switch to Linux that some insiders predict

This also begs the question of what OS Microsoft will be running on their own servers.  But you can bet it will a simple and stable one.

Another concern centres around cloud computing as a whole.  Ray Ozzie, then man who replaced Bill Gates as Microsft’s chief software architect, says Azure is “a new tier in our industry’s computing architecture” – and for some, this is exactly the problem: more layers mean more code, and more tangled spaghettis of communication across tiers, which this blogger explains here.

Conclusion

Ultimately, this Windows offering can only be a good thing.  With the Microsoft juggernaut firmly behind cloud computing, the only way is up.

Richard Geary, Senior Developer for Postcode Anywhere, said: “This is going to be big.  Very big.  People said before the launch of .NET ‘bah, it’ll never catch on, Microsoft are being weird’ – and look at where it is now.  Remember, this is Microsoft we’re talking about.  If you want a platform for mass adoption, Microsoft have the magic.”

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