Microsoft S+S, Windows 7 and the Cloud

Although some folks are chatting about Software Plus Service (S+S), few have heard it mentioned around the water cooler yet. It is a subject, however, that will grab the buzz before much longer. Central to the Google-Microsoft wars, S+S pertains to the upcoming cloud computing phenomenon, as well.

On the one hand, Google’s approach to cloud computing is to put all software and services in the cloud, which is then merely retrieved by a dumb client via browser (think Google Docs, Google Apps). Microsoft, on the other hand, has a hybrid approach to the all-or-nothing scenario in that it retains computing power and software on the device itself, with data rumbling around in the cloud. The Microsoft approach is to seamlessly balance the roles of both to fit any given job at hand. Hence, the Software Plus Service (S+S) name as opposed to Software as a Service (SaaS), where software resides in the cloud.

This is a major differentiator in the future of computing that deserves careful attention. While SaaS has greatly aided companies in reducing costs and speeding deployments, it tends to be a much more vanilla version than its on-premise counterpart. This often presents problems in security and data ownership, as well.

“The problem is that if everything is solely on the device it’s hard to share in real-time on the Web,” explains Lewis Shepherd, CTO of Microsoft Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments. “But if everything is in the cloud, you are forced to work with lightweight versions of the software.”

Microsoft’s answer to this dilemma is to marry the two platforms. The software giant plans to provide high-powered loadable software coupled with “on the go” lighter browser versions to offer vastly more powerful computing and maximum flexibility. Shepherd points to MS Surface, a touch interface that currently ships in table devices (most commonly as a coffee table for hotel lobbies and such), as a concrete example of the benefits the marriage will bring.

Using MS Surface, you can download a picture from a cell phone by merely putting the phone on the table. When the picture comes up, the user can get a variety of information from the picture. If the picture’s of a magazine cover, for example, the user can immediately go to the magazine’s website to read the story, or get the GPS coordinates for the building, or even tap into the restaurant inside the building and make dining reservations. The user can also swipe a credit card to buy theater tickets from an ad listed on the table’s surface, and so it goes ad-infinitum.

The Future of Windows

While MS surface uses tremendous computing power, it is drawing the data from the Web. The seamless balance renders more and richer options for the user. Meanwhile, Microsoft is planning to unveil its new operating system in a couple weeks at the Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles. Steve Ballmer recently gave the OS a playful name, Windows Cloud, and hinted that it will include geo-replication and a SOA model among other things. Certainly, S+S is a major thrust in the platform.

In the end, Windows has to exist in the cloud to remain viable and Ballmer has as much as admitted that. But the play appears to be more than just a bid for Microsoft’s survival. There is no doubt that companies are going to continue to want to keep some data on hand and out of the cloud which will require increasing on-premise computing power—a solid point that Microsoft has clearly nailed. For companies facing increasing regulation and security issues, a complete move to the cloud is simply out of reach and totally undesirable.

In keeping with their battle cry, Windows 7 is touted by Microsoft execs as containing “key architectural changes to enable the efficient execution of parallel software.” Although we won’t know for sure until the unveiling in a couple of weeks, it is widely rumored that Windows 7 will also introduce new touch based features to the user interface (much like Surface and Apple’s iPhone) and the nuggets of S+S in firmer form. For now, Microsoft will have to keep these changes to a minimum to prevent undue user disruption but make no mistake, Microsoft is making a bid on owning a big piece of the cloud.

Currently, there are more than 500 million Windows computers in the world, on top of all the data centers and Microsoft is already one of the largest cloud computing companies in terms of IM, chat and email; “it just makes sense for us to leverage all that,” said Shepherd.

As to the water cooler crowd, the debate will soon revolve around how one intends to use the cloud and, if Microsoft has its way, the acronym S+S will be front and center of that conversation.