There have been great expectations about what Microsoft will be offering against the incredibly successful Apple iPads. Microsoft ‘s CEO Steve Ballmer was also raising the expectations this summer and only this week has this been calmed down by him telling that:
… what you’ll see over the course of the next year is us doing more and more work with our hardware partners creating hardware-software optimisations with Windows 7 and with Windows 7 Media Center …
… Media Center is big and, when people say ‘hey, we could optimise [that] more for clients’ I think what they generally mean is ‘Big Buttons’. Big Buttons that’s, I think, a codeword for Big Buttons and Media Center is Big Buttons not Little Buttons. I’m not trying to trivialise that – it’s a real issue.
We’re not going to do a revamp of Windows 7 over the course of the next year for that purpose. Whether we should, or we shouldn’t, we’ve put all our energy around doing a great job on that and other issues in the next version of Windows …
See that and more on my earlier blog post which was regularly updated in recent months:
– Windows slates in the coming months? Not much seen yet [July 13 – Oct 6, 2010]
One should keep also in mind that Intel will be ready with sufficiently low-power x86 processors just in Q1 2010 as shown in my another post Intel SoC for Cloud Clients [June 27, 2010].
The major thing, however, is that Microsoft is pursuing a much different and broader strategy than Apple. This is the so called “three screens and a cloud” approach which has been extensively articulated by Microsoft a year ago. Nevertheless, in extensive web discussions about Windows slates vs. Apple iPad issue this clear and quite rational strategy has not beeen mentioned at all. Even such highly appreciated analyst firm as Gartner has not taken the implications of that strategy into account (at least not to a sufficient degree) as evidenced by Gartner: Global Tablet PC Sales to Top 100 M. Units in 2014 [Oct 5, 2010]. See also other recent reports such as:
– iPad leads the tablet PC charge as mini-note shipments plummet, says DisplaySearch [Oct 4, 2010]
– iPad-Killers Take Aim at the Tablet PC Market [Oct 4, 2010]
Therefore, in the post below I will first give a retrospective on the “three screens and a cloud” strategy (Part I.), and then give an overview of the company’s current standing on that strategy from the point of view of the cloud clients (Part II.)
I will also recommend to read additional posts of mine because they are quite closely related:
– Microsoft strengths for the PC -> cloud transition [June 27, 2010]
– Microsoft going multiplatform? [Sept 17, 2010]
– Microsoft to lead standards compliance and implementation? … or how Microsoft is aiming to create a radically new Windows client platform via a set of “whole computer capable rich web” standards. [Sept 20, 2010]
– WHAT? … Windows Live Spaces SaaS moving to WordPress.com SaaS? … It is part of a NEW strategy with Windows Live Essentials 2011 released now! [Oct 2, 2010]
Part I. Retrospective on Microsoft’s “three screens and a cloud” strategy
Ray Ozzie [& Bob Muglia] Day 1 Keynote: Professional Developers Conference 2009, Los Angeles, Calif. [Nov 17, 2009], see also the video recording in the time interval indicated by me with square bracketed numbers in the below text:
… [4:33] whether you’re developing for servers or services or PCs, phones or browsers, all of this diversity means that it’s a very complex software environment out there. Many platforms mean many choices. And whether users or enterprise IT, we all want everything just to work together very, very simply, interoperating as one.
And so across PCs, phones, TV, Web, and cloud, across our many products and platforms, across products serving both consumers and business, we at Microsoft have but one simple strategy, and that is to focus on leverage and seamlessness in everything that we do.
We aspire to deliver compelling, seamless, multi-screen experiences for users, and to enable skills leverage and investment leverage for developers and IT.
Of course, this is the very same vision that I laid out at last year’s PDC right here on this stage, and it’s a strategy embodied in a very simple picture we’d like you to keep in the back of your minds, and that is of [5:45] three screens and a cloud, three primary classes of screens, surrounding the Web as the hub of most everything we do.
Note: Those watching the video will notice that Ozzie was actually using a different picture, and before that a corresponding to that “N Screens and a Cloud”. I’ve put a different one here which I think is more expressive, and also putting the TV and XBox experience to the same screen which will be the case with Kinect delivered, as you could see from Steve Ballmer’s latest speech transcripts excerpted below.
With this picture you can visualize our fundamental belief in a world of Web-centric experiences that are also extended richly through apps on your desktop, through apps on the phone in your pocket, and delivered on the inherently shared big screen on your wall; experiences delivered from clouds in private datacenters or from the worldwide public cloud. [6:19]
More information on the “three screens and a cloud” strategy:
– Microsoft Cloud Services Vision Becomes Reality With Launch of Windows Azure Platform, Microsoft Press Release [Nov 17, 2009]
In his keynote address, Ozzie described the company’s “three screens and a cloud” vision, where software experiences are seamlessly delivered across PCs, phones and TVs, all connected by cloud-based services. Underscoring the IT industry’s shift toward a hybrid approach of online services combined with on-premises software, Ozzie described the programming model for a powerful new generation of applications for both businesses and consumers, enabled by new Microsoft development tools and technologies. He also demonstrated customer and partner commitment to Microsoft’s development platform with Seesmic, WordPress and Cheezburger Network.
– Read this Interview of Ray Ozzie, on Cloud Computing [Dec 22, 2009]
– Exclusive Interview With Steve Ballmer: Products, Competition, The Road Ahead [Sept 24, 2009]
– Steve Ballmer: Vision Forum Keynote [Nov 4, 2009]
Part II. Microsoft’s current standing on the cloud clients strategy
Steve Ballmer European Tour 2010 [Oct 4-8, 2010]: Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, was visiting Sweden, UK, Germany, France and Spain as part of his European tour to drive cloud computing adoption and discuss Microsoft’s innovation in the technology. He was also discussing Microsoft’s consumer strategy, highlighting the upcoming launch of Kinect for Xbox 360 and other products.
Microsoft has provided transcripts and Q&As for the major events on that tour. From this the following excerpts are providing a quite excellent overview of the company strategy regarding the cloud clients (emphasis used there is mine, if one goes through only that then one could have already enough information to grasp the essence of their current standing with the strategy):
Sweden Cloud Keynote, Cloud Day Summit, Stockholm, Sweden [Oct 4, 2010]
… when we talk about new client hardware and software, we’re not talking about clients turning away from the Internet and from standards, we’re talking about new ways in which clients — phones, PCs, and TVs — can embrace the cloud, but bring the benefit of intelligence on the device and the advantages of intelligence in the cloud together, and that’s really what we’ve done with Internet Explorer 9.
… it’s about integrating the smart client with standards from the cloud. … how to use the full advantage of PC hardware to make things go fast, and it treats applications on the device and websites both as first class citizens that can be mixed and matched and run concurrently, and we think that is an important part of the way we embrace this boundary between the cloud wants smarter devices, the cloud wants devices like Windows to know about it, to love it, and to treat cloud applications and client applications similarly and both as first class citizens. And I think by building an Internet Explorer 9 experience that loves the cloud and loves the Windows PC you start to see the direction in which we’re taking that.
Seizing the Opportunity of the Cloud: the Next Wave of Business Growth, LSE in London, UK [Oct 5, 2010]
The Cloud wants smarter devices. This is – it was semi-controversial; I think it is now 100% obvious. When we first started talking about the Cloud there was a view that said ‘yes, OK the devices that we use will all get dumb and all of the intelligence will move back out into the Cloud’. And what we have found is quite the contrary. People want smarter devices but smarter devices that can connect with the Cloud in intelligent ways. We just launched a new version of Internet Explorer 9 that really integrates with Windows. Why is it important? Because it’s about both supporting Cloud standards, HTML5 etc, but by doing a better job against those, by taking advantage of the hardware and hardware acceleration capabilities that are built into the PC.
As we buy smartphones people are writing little front-end applications that can talk intelligently to Cloud services. We are on the verge of launching a new such phone. But perhaps the device that I’m most keen on that will launch this Christmas season, which shows a different kind of relationship between the device and the Internet, is the next generation of our Xbox product, which allows you, with your body and your voice, to control everything that is going on on your TV screen. We say you are your control. And yet all of the important content, and information and interaction with friends is all happening out through the Cloud. So you want a smart device processing ‘me’, talking to a smart Cloud on the back end.
[Kinect video plays]
You will again see more when we actually ship next month, but it gives you a sense of why the Cloud might want smarter devices. You want the ability to do things locally; you want the ability to use natural user interface and process language and voice and action locally. And yet you do want to be able to participate in games and track meets and dance competitions with friends, potentially, around the globe. So we need to think about using the intelligent TV, the intelligent PC and the intelligent phone to participate in this new kind of application that people are really going to want to write.
… [in response to a question about what makes Microsoft’s Cloud computing offering distinctive] On the consumer side of the Cloud, I think we have some strengths and we definitely have some opportunities to improve our market share. Certainly with Windows, with IE, with Hotmail and Messenger, we have some strong positions. And I’ll say on the phone and all of the cloud infrastructure that backs it up, I’ll be pleased to announce our next generation of phone here in another week or two. And obviously the Kinect stuff. I’d say the whole sort of Cloud TV connectivity thing is really early. But if you take a look at what you can do with an Xbox this holiday, I think it’s quite a bit ahead of anything that at least our traditional competitors have.
… [in response to a question about making money out of the cloud while Microsoft has lost a pile of money in the past few years on that]
We had a round in the early 2000s where people were telling us we were wrong to do Xbox. I don’t feel wrong to be doing Xbox with the kind of profit that it’s making and the innovation that we’ve got. I don’t feel wrong about it at all. Does that mean that there aren’t things that I wish we’d done differently along the road and we’d be even more successful and even more profitable? Of course I do. That would be the case almost no matter what.
… [in response to a question about his take on the future of our tablet computing in relation to the Cloud, the growth of Google’s Android operating system and Apple iOS devices hindering the growth of Windows in that region] … the thing for at least most of us in the developed world is: we are going to want to have and be able to afford to have technology in our pocket, on our big screen, and our mediumsize screen. Big screens are great for social activities with multiple people. You saw that a little bit in the Kinect demo. There’s nothing quite like having a bit of intelligence in your pocket. And, you know, on the pocket side, we got out to kind of an early jump. We’ve had competition come back in ways I’m not excited about. Now we’ve got to come back against competition. And I think, with our new Windows phones, we really have a beautiful product.
… The bigger screen form factor slate/tablet, very different discussion. We, as a company, will need to cover all form factors, and certainly we have done work around the tablet as both a productivity device and a consumption device. …
And so exactly where the form factors are and how they evolve – and you’ll see, you know, slates with Windows on them. You’ll see them this Christmas. You’ll see them continue to change and evolve. But if you really want most of the benefits of what a PC has to offer – the ability to create and consume, take documents of all types – a form factor that actually has been tuned for a lot of things over a number of years, we certainly have a superior device, and you’ll see us continue to expand the footprint that Windows does a good job of targeting over time.
But the job one thing, right now, is: we’ve got to get back seriously into the game of phones.
The Future of Cloud Services, BITKOM Conference ( of the German association of IT, Telecommunications and Consumer Electronics Enterprises), Cologne, Germany [Oct 6, 2010]
… the cloud wants smarter devices. When the word “cloud” first popped up two or three years ago, I think the view was with the cloud everything goes and becomes recentralized, and we use very dumb devices at the end of the day, and all the intelligence is in the cloud.
All the data since then is, no, we actually want smart devices, but we want smarter devices that think more intelligently about how to use the cloud.
Our new version of Internet Explorer we support HTML5 and the standards, but we’ve also taken advantage of the power of the PC to speed those things up and run them faster than you could in any other way.
… We’re going to launch a new version of the Xbox here in the next month called Kinect where literally you can control the TV set with your voice and your body motions. Well, that takes some intelligence, but you still want it designed so you can play games and connect with people intelligently across the cloud.
So, it will be a world of a next generation of smart device, a next generation of datacenter, a next generation of software that supports those, and a next generation of applications built on the corpus of information of the Web and the corpus of information of the social graph.
Kinect Press Event, Paris, France [Oct 7, 2010]
… back 10 years ago when we started down the Xbox path, we started and said, look, we’ve got to be very good at videogames, and videogames is a very important, big market. Over that time, we’ve sold over 42 million Xboxes around the world. … with the launch of Kinect and with the broadening out of experiences on the Xbox, based upon the kind of partnership that we’re talking about today with Canal Plus, I think you’ll see a real broadening out of the demographic, and we’ll really think about the Xbox as a family entertainment, TV entertainment center as we go forward.
Kinect will launch in November. You’ll be able to buy it in stores here in France in early November, November 10th. We have had a chance to show it in a few places. … so far the visceral response from people is really quite amazing to have such a powerful sensor technology, recognizing your voice and taking action, recognizing your body, and as we say, letting you be, if you will, the controller.
… As we think about the future of user interface to all devices, the notion of having the machines understand you, your actions, your behavior, your gestures, your writing, your voice, those natural interface techniques, they’re going to be very important across the gamut, from the family entertainment and TV, all the way through to important industrial applications.
… we have 25 million subscribers on Xbox LIVE out of a total of 43 million users. If we can dial up the number of users and the percentage of subscribers and the number of people who buy a sensor, I’m pretty — I’m enthusiastic
… One of the nice things is because we have a live service, we can tune the ability of the system to respond to voice and gestures. We’re getting smarter all the time. Kind of one of the magic of let’s call it the cloud approach, we don’t have to build one technology that recognizes voice the same way for the next — for the next few years; we get smarter the more voices we hear, again with appropriate privacy and all of that ensured.
… [in response to a question about whether they intend to use the Kinect with Windows] Do we plan on using — certainly these technologies will be used in all — at some point in different ways with all three screens. Initially we’ll launch the Kinect with the Xbox. But we do have certainly people in our labs who are experimenting with what I would call appropriate applications for various environments?
This sensor, as you will know when you get your hands on one, it actually works very well if you’re about three feet away to about 10 or 15 feet away — one meter to about four or five meters. And if you get too close it encourages you to get a little further back, and if you get too far away — and, of course, the technology will continue to improve, but if you think about at least many PC environments where you’re sitting less than two feet away, this particular technology would need to continue to evolve.
Now, there are plenty of places where the PC might be doing work on your behalf but you’re not sitting next to the PC, and we have a lot of work we’re doing to pioneer some of those applications.
… [in response to a question about what Steve Ballmer sees as job No. 1 among all things Microsoft is doing]
For Microsoft — the family entertainment scenario.
Microsoft is a company that — you know, in a sense I would say we have six different things we’re trying to get done as a company. It’s not the 52 that some people think, and it’s not the three that some of our — or one or two that some of our competitors are after. We’re trying to do great software and experiences for phone, for PC, and for TV, which is really what the Xbox is. It’s broader than just gaming. We’re certainly engaged in search with our Bing search engine; that’s very important to us. We provide tools at work and at home for people to be productive, Office and the like. And then we build platforms that are really enterprise specific and software developer specific for people to build applications and deploy them whether it’s in the cloud or the enterprise datacenter. So, that’s six, it isn’t 10, but it’s not two or three.
Microsoft Days – France [Oct 7, 2010]
The cloud wants smarter devices. A few years back, I think the theory would have been that as things move to the cloud, people are actually going to have less and less intelligence in their devices, and everything is going to operate in the cloud. We’ve seen exactly the opposite happen. We have smarter phones, but phones that are being built with the notion that says they’re going to plug into the cloud from the get go.
We see smarter and smarter PCs being redesigned around this notion of the cloud. What we’ve done in Internet Explorer 9 to speed up the cloud and integrate it with the smart Windows PC is such an example. We showed you the Xbox and the Kinect technology. You couldn’t do that with a dumb client. You can only do it with a smart client, but it’s got to participate in the cloud. So, our clients are being redesigned to be user friendly, easy to take care of and from the get go very cloud-aware.
Next week we get a chance to launch our Windows Phone 7 and the new Windows Phones I think are very good examples of this kind of next generation cloud-oriented, smart phones. We have an application model. I get a chance later today to go judge a little contest of some of the app developers here in France who have been doing applications for Windows Phone 7. We’ve got a new kind of a user interface that assumes that what you really want to do is focus not just on applications, but actually on the people and data that’s most important to you. And so we’ve re-pivoted the user interface consistent with some of the things that we think are possible in the cloud. It’s very different kind of user interface.
Nueva Economica Forum, Madrid, Spain [Oct 8, 2010]
… in the world of the cloud we can think of all of the world’s people and in all of their different personalities as individuals, as employees, as citizens, we want to be able to write new innovations to provide new solutions.
… New devices, there’s new devices coming. We’re always in big competition with other guys out there, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s really a tough world out there.
But we all know there’s a need for new devices. This meeting proves it. There’s a lady here with pencil and paper. I’ll prove I have one, too. I’m not giving her a hard time. (Laughter.) If I lose this paper, my whole week of action items is gone. That would be bad. There must be a digital form that’s better. But no matter what device you pull out today, if you sit there and start typing, it’s not very sociable, it’s not very pleasant, in some cases it’s not even very efficient compared to jotting a quick note.
We have lots of room to continue to invent what does the future of the television look like, what is the future of the PC, the phone, the note-taking device, the reading device.