Microsoft Windows 8 Committed to Cloud Computing

Microsoft’s Build Windows conference in Anaheim, California this week revealed the software giant’s plans for the future. The point that everyone is talking about is the company’s approach to cloud computing. It looks as if they’re betting their entire future on it.

Sebastian Anthony, writing for ExtremeTech, all of Microsoft’s services, platforms, and form factors will be transitioning to the cloud. “Windows 8, Windows Server, Windows Phone 7, Xbox, Bing, and Office, and each of their corollary utilities and tools, will become ‘continuous services’ – services that fully leverage Windows Azure and Live to provide a new level of context- and position-aware computing.” For programmers, Microsoft is releasing new versions of Visual Studio 2011 and .NET 4.5 so they can build applications that make the most of Azure.

Programmers now have a choice of developing for the desktop or developing for the cloud. The latter means using Windows Run Time. WinRT, as it’s called, is a C++ object-oriented API. The user interface is named Metro. Mike James, writing for iProgrammer, notes that creating apps for Windows 8 in the cloud “feels a lot like creating apps for Windows Phone 7.” You’ll need to be prepared for certain restrictions. For example, in WinRT, when you create a Page object and run it, it will fill the entire screen; there are no overlapping windows. Or as James puts it, “Metro takes the windows out of Windows.” And Microsoft clearly seems set to move forward with Metro and let the desktop slowly wither away.

What will these various changes mean for the average user? With relatively few exceptions, most people use Microsoft products at some point during the day; even if they use Android- or Apple-based devices at home, the majority of businesses have standardized on Microsoft. If Windows 8 proves as stable and usable as its immediate predecessor, within two to three years, nearly everyone will be functioning “in the cloud” – or more specifically, in Microsoft’s cloud.

This change brings some obvious disadvantages with it. If all of your applications and all of their data get saved to the cloud automatically, it might take more of an effort to make sure you have copies locally when you need them. Yes, you can access the data from multiple devices; that’s the point of putting the data in the cloud. But what happens when your ISP experiences problems? All of a sudden, you can’t get to your data when the network is down – and no network in the world is up 100 percent of the time.

As Anthony points out, it’s not just a question of your data. Microsoft plans to put all of the applications in the cloud as well. “We are already at the stage where we curse out loud and feel consummately useless if we go through a 3G blackspot or if our ISP falls over – but imagine what it will be like when every app uses server-side logic.” Right now, as I type this on my laptop, I’m not too worried if my network goes down; I’ve read enough that I can finish the article, save it, and get to another network that’s actually running to upload it. I’m running OpenOffice on my laptop. I’m not too thrilled at the idea of a network glitch potentially sending me back to the Stone Ages of longhand writing!

On the other hand, lots of positives come with a cloud-connected future. If you use a web-based email provider, you’ve already experienced some of it. Microsoft’s plans take it a lot further, allowing Windows 8, Windows Phone 7, and Xbox to all share information easily. Your own system may start reading your mind. Imagine searching for a movie from your Windows phone on your commute to work, and finding the same movie queued up on your Xbox when you get home. Or working on a document at the office, putting the finishing touches on it on your phone on the way home, and turning on your home computer to read through it one last time before emailing it to your boss – all without having to transfer the document from one device to another or worry about different versions.

Of course, once this kind of thing becomes the new norm, problems will increase when it doesn’t work. “Imagine leaving the office, assuming that your browser tabs and passwords will be automatically transferred to your computer at home – but your ISP is suffering an outage. What do you do?” Anthony asks. Also, when it does work, some might find the idea that their computers seem to anticipate their needs and almost read their minds a little creepy. “Are we really ready for a world where the devices we use for most of our waking hours can communicate behind our back?” Anthony wonders.

Microsoft had to move to the cloud. Google’s Android operating system has slowly been making inroads on the software giant’s bread-and-butter market, and Android was built for the cloud from the ground up. Apple and Amazon have also climbed aboard the cloud, but Microsoft’s move may be the biggest yet. It’s certainly one of the largest changes the company has made in its history. If the gamble pays off, we’ll all be living in the cloud.

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