CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Like others in the industry, Craig Mundie sees computing moving increasingly to the cloud. The big question is: what will be the "killer" applications driving demand?
Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, offered up the company's vision for the next phase of computing at the EmTech conference here on Thursday. That vision includes an increasing reliance on cloud-based computing, robotics, and far-flung sensors. And, Mundie says, client-based operating systems.
"Whether it's Windows or something else, something has to make all of this iron work. People say OS is irrelevant, (but) demands on the operating system are actually getting higher and higher," Mundie said.
Still, Mundie acknowledged that most people "don't choose Windows...they choose applications. It's the killer apps people are choosing and that will be true in the next generation" of computing.
"I think that will be true as we go forward with this new composite platform. People won't really care what the iron is, or the underlying OS."
Mundie's comments underscore a primary concern for Microsoft, as cloud computing becomes more widespread: How does the company keep Windows relevant?
That's a larger concern that Mundie, along with Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, will need to tackle with Microsoft's evolving "client/cloud" strategy that posits operating systems will perform a vital role in local processing. Adobe Systems--which only recently launched a Web-based services--agrees. But Google and other competitors clearly see Web-based applications as driving future development.
Despite the far-reaching vision that Mundie discussed here, it's the little things that still matter most to many Windows users.
One conference attendee asked Mundie how Microsoft can bring broad technological advances, such as Mundie's vision for what he calls "spatial computing," down to a more human level and allow computing technology to better recognize human error and misunderstanding.
The attendee, a recent convert to Vista, said that his wife could not find a way to shut down the PC and had reverted to unplugging it from the wall. Couldn't Vista have helped her?
In response, Mundie said that there has "always been a tension between advancing and maintaining capability with the past. Your wife should have easily been able to discover how to turn Vista off. But we are not there yet."
Mundie referenced the "ribbon" feature of Office 2007, which was intended to make it easier to find the hundreds of features within Office. He also mentioned a product called Bob, "a more derided product" that Microsoft marketed in the 1990s as a way to help new users navigate Windows. It flopped, though the company did keep at least one Bob innovation--and much-despised feature--called "Clippy" as part of Word for some years later.
"With Bob," he said, "we tried to create this product that would have a sidebar conversation with users to teach them how to do things. Clippy really wasn't enough help. If we want to make things simple, the software is a lot harder.
"As we get this change in computational capability, we need to include these technologies to let the machine help you better," he said.