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?!”

Microsoft seem keen to embrace Web 2.0 and Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), despite the fact it’s bungled opportunities for innovation in the past.

Microsoft have made a few statements recently that suggest SaaS and SOA are on its mind, whisperings like this abound and finally a couple of days ago Microsoft stopped being coy about its plans and made a statement.

With Microsoft wading in, does this mean we have to take cloud computing seriously?  I think it does.  What does this have to do with the inability to right-click in Microsoft’s development platform Silverlight?  Why do I randomly bring that one up?  We’ll discuss that later.

I’m going to take you back a few years to illustrate why Microsoft has hit the ball out of the park by taking cloud computing seriously.

Back in the day, most people thought Apple had a good thing going with its market-leading hardware and operating system:

Apple's model

Apple

If people wanted the Operating System, they had to buy into the Mac – and vice-versa.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well we all know what did go wrong for Apple:

Microsoft's model

Microsoft

By positioning itself primarily as an Operating System and Software manufacturer, Microsoft pulled off its now infamous coup de grace: allowing other vendors to supply the hardware increased competition and drove down the price of the hardware.  If you wanted a cheap computer, you didn’t buy an Apple.  So you ended up tied to Microsoft’s operating system and got sold its software, which rapidly became ubiquitous.  Microsoft leap-frogged Apple, positioned itself higher up the food chain and strangled Apple in the process.

Microsoft have had that smug grin on their face ever since.  The one company that’s made that smile waver is Google:

Google's model

Google

The Internet was another rung on the ladder – Microsoft anticipated it but despite successes with their Internet Explorer browser failed to capture the hearts of Internet users after Google scored a sneaky goal by dominating the search market.  There’s enough room in the system for Apple to have a place on the bottom, and there’s more than enough for Microsoft higher up, but Google had now decisively leapfrogged Microsoft.  Despite still wearing that smug grin, Microsoft has been irritated at Google’s share of the expanding market; it does not want to be left behind.  Which is why this has made them a bit happier:

Google's market

Google

It’s made them happier because it hasn’t really worked.  Google have tried to extend their presence into more cloud computing services and they’ve pretty much failed.  Sure, web-based mail has been succesful, but everyone’s got a piece of that and it’s more of a utility than a way of life; a few scattered tools on the web hardly look to challenge Microsoft’s domination of the operating system and software market and neither do they look like much of a missed opportunity (yet).

The whole point of having a platform is that you can use it to roll out your real money-spinners.  Apple used their Mac platform to roll out their OS.  Microsoft used their OS to roll out their software.  Google has dominated the Internet platform with its search engine, but the nature of the technology means that Google can’t use it to sell people anything else.  It earns vast revenue itself through advertising, sure, but Google wants more.  And why not?  It would be the equivalent of Microsoft saying: “Sure, we’ve built Windows, and that makes enough money – let’s not bother trying to sell people Word.”

This is why Google took the natural step and tried selling people on Google apps.  But the problem is that their tools are treated more like fanciful games by most Internet users, not the integral way of life that software like the Office suite has become.  So where does the problem lie?  The problem is with the Internet; it’s too big, Internet users aren’t loyal and they surf about like gadflies.  Google might control it but it’s not really a platform for rolling out web services; it’s too diaphanous.  There is a solution, but it’s difficult to grasp it.  This is the model that had slowly been appearing in the minds of Microsoft and Google:

The Future?

The Future?

(Of course I have over-simplified here: cloud computing will not kill traditional software and Operating Systems, but I believe it will reduce their share of the market considerably.)

Just like the Windows operating system crystallised a bunch of messy code in the minds of users with a user interface that then made software accessible, so a web-based OS should organise the mess of the web into something manageable for the average user.  And it will be a real platform for rolling out web services.

Of course, we’re talking about a conceptual operating system here: users will still need something to boot up their PC!  The way we’re moving, however, it looks like the user-interface and backbone that drives the software will be web-based.  It makes sense.

Isn’t that just an internet browser?  Well, not really.  Google’s Chrome seems developed with web services in mind, with all its accoutrements and javascript powerhouse, but it’s not exactly revolutionary, and neither is it an operating system to drive SaaS applications.

Microsoft are going to try and do to themselves what they did to Apple: leapfrog the market, leave the market free beneath them and thus open up competition below to channel more consumers up the funnel towards their new base.

Something that tells me very strongly that they have this in mind?  The inability to right-click in Silverlight!  If Microsoft are so keen to be a part of Cloud Computing, why have they irritated every programmer in the land by making right-clicks ineffective? (The developers at The Web Service are not happy.  Typical quote:

Why have they disabled right click when Mac users make up 5% of the computing population and only 5% of those have a one-button mouse?  You might as well deliver software to everyone as a book because not everyone has a computer!

Well, it might seem a bit bizarre at first, but this is what I reckon:

Microsoft want to make their cloud computing platform and software as accessible to as many Internet users as is humanly possible, even if that means limiting the applications.

Why?  Simple: They plan on leap-frogging once again, this time into the cloud, and they know they will leave behind their earth-based operating system.  Like they did before, they will move up a level, make a cloud-based operating system that is accessible to all, and will gain mass adoption.   People will abandon Windows XP, Vista and whatever earth-bound incarnation of Windows 7 is around.  They’ll most probably use Linux instead (it will be one hell of a lot cheaper); all the stuff they’ll be interested in, the UI, cuddly bits and what makes their web-based software work will be fed to them through the cloud.

Microsoft knows they’re having to move house and wants to be sure of capturing the new market further up the ladder before the old one decays and withers away.  So they’re trying to do what they did with Windows and make their first steps into a cloud-based OS ubiquitous by letting as many people as possible hook into it.  Then, once more, they’ll be unmoveable.

Maybe that’s too much to read into from one functionality problem with Silverlight, but this sort of thing never stopped Columbo.

…According to BCS:

Software as a service (SaaS) does not feature in most businesses’ plans, despite the potential benefits, according to new research.

A survey by BT found that 81 per cent of its business customers did not know very much about SaaS and had not considered using it at their company, reports silicon.com.

Chris Lindsay, general manager of SaaS at the telecoms giant, told the website that firms risked falling behind by not adopting the technology.

‘It’s quite eye-opening really in terms of the lack of awareness but [also] the benefits are very clearly spelt out by the customers who have adopted the services,’ he said.

He cited other research from BT which discovered that 60 per cent of companies which used SaaS have seen costs cut and 50 per cent have reported a freeing-up of time.

Despite the seemingly negative attitude expressed by those who have yet to take up SaaS, Mr Lindsay believes it has moved ‘out of the innovators and early adopters to what we call the early majority’.

This isn’t really anything we didn’t know already, but it helps to quantify some of the thoughts about SaaS.  If we’re in the early majority for SaaS, where are we for DaaS?  If we’re behind on the chart, it would be pretty ironic due to the flexibility of DaaS over SaaS.

Ultimately, I just don’t think many people feel ready to have software or indeed anything as a service; there is no sense of ownership, and I think it’s really this (pretty silly but very human respnse) that *really* puts people off.  I predict that people will keep trolling along as best they can until market forces will make such services the only option in order to remain competitive.  And I’m not the only one that thinks SaaS is the future.

I thought I’d give a lightning rundown of the various benefits of SaaS and perceived drawbacks of SaaS and its little-understood younger brother DaaS.

Software as a Service (SaaS)
* No need to manage software – it’s outsourced
* Service not product payment model more affordable for smaller companies
* Any issues/upgrades as flagged up by one consumer can be implemented and the benefits shared by all
* Rolling payment model means SaaS providers must maintain a good relationship with their clients
* Licence for a range of devices, not one static machine – use the same software on different hardware anywhere you want

Data as a Service (DaaS)
* No need to manage data – it’s outsourced
* Data kept up-to-date on rolling schedule (very important)
* Lots of opportunity for customising the software that uses the data, or at least the UI – & lots of mashup opportunities
* Rolling payment model means DaaS providers must maintain a good relationship with their clients
* Data can be accessed by a range of devices, not one static machine – and different software and UIs, with different permissions

Perceived drawbacks of SaaS

“No customization” – you don’t get the software built specifically for your needs but have to instead subscribe to a universal service

Rebuttal:
The core market for SaaS is the small and medium-sized businesses that will benefit from SaaS’s easy-to-digest payment model.  These companies probably already have to use out-of-the-box software rather than custom-built offerings.  And if it’s the data rather than the software proper that’s outsourced (see below) then there’s a massive (and in fact greater) degree of flexibility.

“The pricing isn’t as transparent as a one-off sum”

Rebuttal:
Well, what could be?!  More clear and transparent pricing models are needed for this sector… but at the same time, consumers aren’t sure of how much they’ll use the service and whether it represents good value for money.  This is a justified concern for the consumer, but as ever, it’s just unfamiliarity with the system of payment that’s the final stumbling block.

“Complete reliance on the Internet to provide the service

Rebuttal:
More and more of a company’s infrastructure is dependent on the Internet anyway… it is, however, prudent to go with a SaaS provider with a track record and promise of 99.999% availability!

Perceived drawbacks of DaaS

“Lack of security when data is ‘in the cloud'”

Rebuttal:
There is no lack of security, only lack of control – and as you may have been told the last time you were automatically denied access from installing something on your work computer, lack of control is part and parcel of a tight security system; what could be better than data held in one place and looked after by true experts?

“Complete reliance on the Internet to serve the data”

Rebuttal:
More and more of a company’s infrastructure is dependent on the Internet anyway… it is, however, prudent to go with a DaaS provider with a track record and promise of 99.999% availability!

CONCLUSION

My conclusion is that while there are a few concerns about SaaS and DaaS, it’s more to do with unfamiliarity of the processes involved than any inherent problems with the solutions.  As we become more and more interconnected and mobile, these sorts of solutions will become the only viable ones. The apparent failure of earlier cloud computing models (namely ASP) was more due to limitations on the Internet infrastructure than anything else.

If you would like to try out any of TheWebServices SaaS and DaaS solutions, there are free trials available at The Web Service website.  They certainly don’t cost a fair whack.

September’s Information Age brings into sharp focus the real power of Google’s new internet browser, Google Chrome.  The bottom line is, what’s truly different about this browser is that it’s custom-built to support Software-as-a-Service.  Faster browsing, nice user interface… meh.  These are just accoutrements to the SaaS powerhouse that Chrome’s been designed to be.

Googles Eric Schmidt - profile at Sydney Morning Herald

Google's Eric Schmidt - profile at Sydney Morning Herald

Chrome will directly challenge Microsoft as a platform for powerful industrial apps

-Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt

As such, Google and Microsoft are yet again set to go head-to-head, but in a market more important than internet browsers; how they fare will shape the future of both the Internet and how people use software.

Eric Schmidt said in a recent FT interview: “Microsoft has a history of favouring its own applications and I can give you 500,000 pages of court testimony, document weblogs and so forth and so on about that.”  So, the browser is clearly designed to prevent the company from being sidelined by Microsoft.

Microsoft has thus far only made tentative steps into the SaaS arena with its half-licence, half-SaaS “Software+Services” fudge.  Google, on the other hand, has its head firmly in the clouds with its SOA apps, gathering enough useful data from people’s mail and search history to give it a competitve advantage over Microsoft.

How Google does with its Chrome browser could be central to the the advancement of SaaS – let’s hope it doesn’t stay in Beta for the next twenty years like Gmail looks set to be.

Read the full story here.

Here are “Top 8 Reasons Why companies Shun SaaS” according to Networkworld:

66% Integration issues
61% Total cost of ownership concerns
55% Lack of customization
50% Security concerns
42% “We can’t find the specific application we need”
39% Complicated pricing models
39% Application performance
34% “We’re locked in with our current vendor”
(Note: Multiple responses accepted… that’ll be why the percentages add up to more than 100 then…)

I’d be interested to hear if anybody shares any of these concerns, because they really seem to come down to one thing: lack of knowledge – a market just a bit scared by the unknown. I mean, some of the concerns are completely counter to the truth… “lack of customization”? I think at TheWebService we’d like to count ourselves as at the forefront of DaaS (Data as a Service) and all the customization possibilities that means… and there’s nothing better than our SaaS for mashups.  the big players will always be able to afford to have comletely custom-made solutions, and they can just get on with it – but the smaller companies can be catered for, there’d no doubt about that!

Costs aren’t always clearly explained.  I think a pay-as-you-go model is the simpleast and most transparent way of going about it (and surprise surprise, that’s what’s used at Postcode Anywhere and TheWebService!) … there’s nothing complicated about that… it’s just lack of familiarity that’s the problem.