Will Microsoft’s (MSFT) new cloud-computing framework, Mesh, prevent the PC software titan from getting disrupted by the move toward cloud computing? Will Mesh allow Microsoft to kill Google (GOOG), Salesforce.com (CRM), Netsuite (N), et al?
There was some good news for Microsoft in the Mesh announcement–Ray Ozzie clearly understands what the company is up against, even if Bill Gates doesn’t (see below)–but Mesh is still a hybrid-platform that seems designed primarily to ensure that Microsoft’s current products survive the shift to cloud computing.
First, Ray Ozzie’s take on the paradigm shift compared to Bill Gates’s. John Markoff explains:
The introduction of Live Mesh is a significant strategic shift for Microsoft, whose operating system helped popularise personal computers. Bill Gates, the company’s co-founder, chairman and chief architect, said in an interview on CNN a year ago, “We’re making the PC the place where it all comes together.”
However, a strategy document circulated to company employees on Tuesday that was written by Ray Ozzie, one of the Microsoft’s two chief technology officers, countered that view.
“The Web is the hub of our social mesh and our device mesh,” he wrote. That statement is the first of a set of three “guiding principles” that Mr. Ozzie outlined in the five-page document entitled “Services Strategy Update.” In taking the PC off centre stage, Microsoft is refocusing some of its resources to catch its cloud computing rivals.
“This is a pretty significant public statement that the battle is really a cloud battle,” said Mark Stahlman, a research vice president at Gartner, an industry consulting group. “It’s not an ad search battle or a desktop operating system battle. Those are fought and won already. This is the one that’s wide open.”
Note: Unlike Bill, Ray Ozzie appears to understand that the cloud, not the PC, is the centre of the new world. However, even Ray’s worldview is shaped by the need to protect Microsoft’s existing business: “The web is the hub of our social mesh and device mesh.”
Google, Salesforce, et al, aren’t talking about a “mesh” of cloud and devices. Why? Because they don’t care much about the devices, as long as the devices can all be used to access the same cloud. For Microsoft, meanwhile, the devices–the PC especially–are mission critical: Reduce the need for local PC-based software, and you have killed Microsoft.
Save Locally and synchronise? Why? Why Not Just Save in Cloud?
To see this, consider the first application that Microsoft is rolling out to demonstrate the power of Mesh: a robust synchronisation tool that allows you to save stuff on one device and then synchronise it on all your other devices.
Cool? Yes–multiple versions are a whopping pain in the neck. Necessary? As a transitional technology, perhaps. The type of application you would design if you were building applications from scratch for a cloud computing world? No.
As Hank Williams observes, why would you want to save something locally and then synchonize it when you could just save it once in the cloud? Answer? You wouldn’t. You would only want to do this if you were trying to protect the value of device-based operating systems and applications.
(As Google Gears and Apps demonstrate, there is obviously an advantage to being able to save locally when the cloud isn’t available, but Gears supplements a cloud-based app, whereas Mesh supplements PC-based apps. Google and Microsoft are coming at the problem from two different sides, and–so far anyway–Google’s solution is simpler and more convenient).
Mesh is another step toward cloud computing, but it is still a hybrid solution–an attempt to keep the old paradigm fresh and relevant in the new one. If Microsoft wants to be a major force in cloud computing, it’s going to have to go way beyond Mesh.
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