Microsoft


So the wires are aflame with the news that Microsoft and Yahoo have “joined forces” in a 10-year search and advertising deal.

Search and destroy

Let’s be clear on this one: Microsoft isn’t partnering with Yahoo. It’s devouring it. It’s gobbling it up whole like a party snack before moving onto its next conquest. The argument, of course, is that not having to fund search will save Yahoo “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Well done. If Nike halted the production of shoes it would save itself hundreds of millions of dollars too. The only drawback being they’d have bugger-all to sell. All of which begs the question: is Yahoo nothing more than a brand?

why-yahoo-question-mark

Yahoo is a husk

Is it an ironic coincidence that “the term “Yahoo” has become synonymous with “cretin,” “dinosaur,” and/or “Neanderthal?”
It seems their misappropriation of Swift’s literary savages has finally come to define them. They’re out of touch; a member of a collective of prehistoric companies that include the likes of AOL, whose search has stalled but just about manages to scrape a revenue through the hillbillies, the half-dead and the Luddites who still use dial-up.

Wrong deal, wrong time

Yahoo chief Carol Bartz said: “This agreement comes with boatloads of value for Yahoo, our users, and the industry. And I believe it establishes the foundation for a new era of internet innovation and development.”

Note the “boatloads of value,” in pointed contradiction to the “boatloads of money” Bartz previously promised to shareholders. Seems that promise was a boatload of (*cough*) bravado. Yahoo’s stock mirrors this disappointment, with share price taking a 7% drop immediately after the announcement. The deal is certainly a far cry from the $44.6bn bid Microsoft made for Yahoo in February 2008.

Microsoft should be pretty pleased

Bing was always a way for Microsoft to acquire Yahoo. But it wasn’t a cheap ploy; they’ve come up with a decent search engine that even breaks some new ground.  It embraces real-time search by incorporating Twitter results and it bundles in other nice touches like video previews straight from the results page. They’ve even chosen the name carefully, making sure it can be used as a verb – “I binged it.” It does, in fact, make Google look a little bit lazy – and out of touch. As well as Wave and Chrome, which mean nothing yet to the consumer, Google’s most recent activity includes, err, adding the pointless ability for users to personalise their search results and … oh yeah, taking Gmail out of beta after five years. Let’s face it – that’s a bit lame, Google. Next you’ll be taking lessons off Ask Jeeves.
Yahoo! is dead. Long live Microsoft.

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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.”

Microsoft took their time, but the web is abuzz with news that Office is going to be available as a fully web-based service.  According to ReadWriteWeb:

These will be “lightweight versions”, but Microsoft told us yesterday that they’ll still have rich functionality and will be comparable to Google’s suite of online office applications. The apps will enable users to create, edit and collaborate on Microsoft Office documents through the browser. The apps will work in IE, Firefox and Safari browsers (no word on whether Google Chrome will be supported).  Microsoft clarified in an email that these apps will use HTML and AJAX, but also Silverlight components.

The next release of Microsoft Office will include browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

Linux is the answer if cloud computing & Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is going to work… this open-source operating system is the future of SOA & cloud computing.  Let’s present the argument:

Microsoft knows what it’s doing with SOA and Vista

Traditional operating systems will be dead in a few years.   they’ll be killed by service-oriented architecture.  That’s what my money’s on and if you think I’m a rabid Web 2.0 nutcase then you can’t see the bigger picture.  Microsoft have realised it.  In fact, that may (somewhat ironically) be one of the reasons Vista was such a retrograde step in opening up Web 2.0: Microsoft wants to milk us for as much as possible, and the best short-term plan is to positively hold back cloud computing & SOA for as long as possible.  They know Service Oriented Architecture is coming, but as the biggest player by far in the exisiting OS market, why accelerate its growth?  It makes sense to stave it off as long as possible and rely on a business model that they know works.

The reason Microsoft is starting to come round now is that while they don’t wish to accelerate the advance of cloud computing (and miss out on flogging us Windows 7, 8, 9 & 10 for our very earth-based desktops) they want to be the first to the table once a certain tipping point has reached and cloud computing is not only inevitable but immediately forseeable.

Imagine a dog.  This dog has knocked a big butcher’s block off the kitchen table, and two big hunks of steak have fallen off.  One steak is within reach, so he sits there and starts work on it.  The other steak has landed on the other side of the room.  Now, he’s not the only dog in the house.  There’s another one upstairs.  This dog upstairs has heard the commotion and starts coming down.  Now does the first dog immediately rush off to defend the second steak before the first dog gets there?  No.  He’s got enough time, so he wolfs down the steak he’s got before doing an about-turn and pouncing on the second steak, before the second dog gets there.

OK… this is a very laboured and imperfect analogy: the first steak is the existing operating systems and software market, the second the cloud computing and web services market.  The first dog is Microsoft and the second represents its competitors.

The Future of SOA, SaaS DaaS and PaaS

As I forecast in this post, one sensible (but shocking) strategy for Microsoft is to “leap-frog” the market and invest heavily in cloud-based “operating systems” platforms and use this “operating system” to roll out software-as-a-service.  There will be a place for wholly deskbound solutions (late adopters – mostly home users) but this market will be a fraction of what it is now.  I predict Microsoft will concentrate their development on the platform in the cloud and stop pushing their desktop operating systems so hard.  Why?  Because more and more people will be running Linux.  It’s free, and it’s becoming more and more widely supported.  Why should people invest in two operating systems? They won’t.  They’ll use Linux to boot up their computer and use a cloud-based system to interface with software, their desktop, etc.  But it’s going to be messy.  Some people will be running Linux, some Apple, and some will be using Microsoft’s latest home OS.  But the real future is in the cloud and whoever can create the most ubiquitous, one-size-fits-all solution will dominate the market.  Remember, we’ve already seen it with Microsoft and Windows: by leaving the hardware to others (which was seen as a ghastly mistake at the time), Microsoft made an awesome coup in the OS and thus software market.  It scored twice by capturing a platform: it sold the OS and could roll out the software too.  Now Microsoft, if they have any sense, will concentrate less on the earth-bound operating systems market for everyone to fight over and concentrate on making a solution in the cloud.  It should stop beating us round the face with more bulky additions, millions of add-ons and lines of code in its OSes and give us a neat, trimmed-down, lean, super-fast desktop OS that hooks into the real delivery system – the OS in the cloud.  But the OS in the cloud is where the real money will be made because more and more people will switch to Linux – and eventually Microsoft’s earth-based OS business will dry up.

Linux users need to get their heads out of their asses

There’s something about Unix users.  They’re often too clever for their own good.  They’re often smug.  They’re always bloody clever.  They’re a part of a club and often like to look down on the people who use Windows: the double-clickers, the Office buyers, the Wizard users.  Unix users like to have a relationship with their computer.  It’s more personal.  They’re probably built their computer themselves.  I have a suspicion that many Linux users are pleased that it’s more troublesome to use for the average user.  It keeps the riff-raff out of the club.

Here’s the opinion of one Linux user, Scott:

I am sorry, but the Linux world has got to get over the “geekie-ness” and get something out that is for the users. Yes, you can build it, customize it, make your own distro for all it’s worth. The bottom line is that people want an OS that runs the software and hardware they use.

I am an avid Linux and long time Mac user and I have to say, I feel like I am fighting with the OS much of the time. Getting drivers to work is just one of my pet peeves. Yes I can spend my time figuring it out on google, but why? Say what you want, but I can boot up OS X or Windows and they all work (software and/or hardware)…..and you do not need to be a “geek” to get them to work. OS X is what Linux should aspire to be….simple, powerful, easy to use, with enough play under the hood to satisfy any geek.

We can say…virus free, runs on old hardware, and “I do not bow to the MS empire” all you want…but the bottom line is that Linux does not work or run the software or hardware people want….in the home or business. If it did, do you not think more people would be using it?

What I do find funny is that the Linux/OpenSource community may have bigger ego’s and heads that Mac users.

Well, Linux users may take umbrage at my sweeping generalizations, and some may argue that it’s not in their interests to become mainstream anyway (they’re happy as they are) but as I see it, a chance for Linux to come into the mainstream is a major opportunity for a great OS – after all, what’s irritating for existing users of Linux at the moment?  Lack of support from hardware manufacturers, that’s what.  Getting drivers that work.  It’s not mainstream so it’s not supported, so users have to pointlessly wait around for the community to hack the problem.  Adoption by the mainstream would eliminate this problem.  The community would grow.  Linux would be the ultimate King of the operating System.  It’s free so it would become pre-installed on all systems.  People who wanted to “upgrade” to Windows would become fewer and fewer.

Windows users need to get their heads out of their asses

There is a great culpability attached to Windows.  OK, things might go wrong, but you’ve always got someone to blame.  In fact, it’s become almost a sport.  It doesn’t really matter if they can solve your problem or not (which is, I suppose, a good job); the point is it’s Not Your Fault.  With Unix, you have no-one to blame but yourself for choosing the bloody stupid free stuff in the first place.  In this sense, there is a problem.  As I see it, the solution is one of these:

a) Retailers offer Linux customer support (but they won’t know what the hell they’re talking about)
b) Hardware manufacturers offer customer support (Massively unlikely)
c) Businesses are set up that offer a flashy front-end to Unix and charge a nominal fee… mostly for customer support

Asking the community is not enough for the late majority onward: they want a number to ring.  A figure head to hate.  Someone to Blame.  They’ve never been sure of computers and they pretty much need that.

Service Oriented Architecture: Exisiting Open-Source Solutions

Take a look here for some discussion on gOS 3.

Advances are being made and for me, the future of SOA, software, data and platforms as a service is very clear.  As ever, I heartily recommend taking a look at The Web Service website to have a look at some of the possibilities of Data as a Service and cloud computing.

As ever we’ll continue to look at Service-Oriented Architecture: Software as a Service, Data as a Service and Platform as a Service on this blog… if only to ask the pernenial question: “What is Service Oriented Architecture?!”