June 28, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Cloud OS still pie in the sky

If Microsoft's latest efforts are any indication, a Web-based iteration of its desktop franchise won't be ready any time soon.

Microsoft late Tuesday announced two new Windows Live services, one for sharing photos and the other an online storage service. The two services, both in private testing, represent the start of a new push by the software maker to make its Web services more compelling. But their release also suggests that Microsoft is still at the early stages of its Web services effort.

The Windows Live Folder service, in particular, is similar to many existing online storage services, such as Yahoo Briefcase and AOL's Xdrive. While storage is a key component for any Web-based push, the fact the service is just now emerging--and is still not publicly available--seems to imply that Microsoft is still working on some of the basic building blocks that it would need to really replicate Windows on the Internet, the so-called "Cloud OS" that some think Microsoft has up its sleeve.

"Maybe 10 years from now...Windows becomes a shell and a bunch of drivers and most of the applications have moved online. It's possible, but I don't think Microsoft will go there until and unless they have to."
--Matt Rosoff, analyst, Directions on Microsoft

It's unclear whether Microsoft's ambitions stretch even that far.

"I'm not entirely convinced they are going to go as far in that direction as some people are suggesting," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at market research firm Directions on Microsoft. "I don't think it is strictly necessary."

Microsoft has talked about a strategy of software plus services in which everything on the desktop is augmented, though not replaced, by online services. Rosoff said that appears to be "Plan A" for Microsoft, though he wouldn't rule out the notion that Microsoft is developing a backup plan.

"Maybe 10 years from now...Windows becomes a shell and a bunch of drivers and most of the applications have moved online," he said. "It's possible, but I don't think Microsoft will go there until and unless they have to."

More likely, he said, is that a certain set of functions, handled on the desktop today, move online.

"Microsoft is gradually building out services that could conceivably take the place of some functions of a PC," Rosoff said.

A new generation of Windows Live
In other ways, though, Microsoft continues to bet on the desktop. Both the new Windows Live Photo Gallery, as well as its Windows Live Mail desktop e-mail programs represent steps in that strategy. In both cases, Microsoft has written new versions of programs that are already built into Windows Vista. In the free downloadable versions, though, the programs have a direct tie to Microsoft's online services.

The moves represent a new front for Microsoft, which first announced its Live services push in a splashy event in San Francisco in November 2005. The company rebranded Hotmail and MSN Messenger with Windows Live names and in the ensuing months rolled out a slew of new services under the Windows Live moniker.

"We introduced a whole bunch of interesting services, but not major services," said Brian Hall, the former head of Windows Live OneCare, who now serves as general manager for the Windows Live unit. Hall said that the company spent much of the last months revamping its lineup of services, in particular with the overhaul of Windows Live Hotmail.

"That was kind of the end of the first generation of Windows Live," Hall said.

The next generation of services, which starts with Live Folders and the new photo gallery, is aimed at making sure Microsoft has more of the major infrastructure pieces in place and also at working to integrate the services better together. The company is testing a tool that would allow people to install multiple Windows Live services and keep them current with a common updater.

As for the prospect of a full-fledged Cloud OS, Microsoft has been largely silent. The company has said that Ray Ozzie is developing a broader Live services platform, but has offered few details. Ozzie himself has been something of a recluse in recent months, though he did speak at the Mix '07 show in April.

"I've nothing to announce in that realm at this time," Ozzie told CNET News.com in an interview at the show. "Yet, it's pretty clear that we're working on some stuff."

Some Microsoft watchers had been hoping to hear more about Microsoft's developer or "platform" strategy at the October professional developers conference, but Microsoft has now cancelled that. Microsoft has opened up programming interfaces for some of its individual Windows Live services, but its broader message for coders is less clear.

"They have talked a lot about their developer strategy, but that's in its infancy," Rosoff said.

Microsoft readily admits it is just in its early stages and knows that the latest products are just a step in getting the company where it wants to be.

"We're in a good position, but we are not in a great position yet," Hall said.

See more CNET content tagged:
Microsoft Windows Live, online storage, Web service, bunch, Microsoft Corp.


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Cloud OS?
Does anyone have any idea what an "OS" would look like in the "Cloud"? I'm thinking of writing a web based internet browser and I'm not sure how much of the ui to devote to advertising.
Posted by Hardcode (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
delicious, thanks for that =)
Posted by balkce (32 comments )
Link Flag
In the cloud not in the sky
Microsoft might be years away from an OS in the cloud but try out G.ho.st (the Global Hosted Operating SysTem at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://G.ho.st" target="_newWindow">http://G.ho.st</a>) - a fully functional cloud OS live today with desktop, widgets, applications, storage on the cloud (3GB free) and many more apps as well as Web mail coming very soon!

Lets us know what you think

Posted by zvis (3 comments )
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Not Even A Goal
Gone are the days of Mainframe, here are the days of the Personal Computer. Moving an Operating System other then resource serives into the cloud would just create a mainframe on a much larger scale. This is not the intention of Microsoft or Apple for that fact. Check out the video of Mix 07, Ray Ozzie will explain that this is not a goal. And check out the D5 video, Steve Jobs will also explain why this is not a goal.
Posted by StargateFan (122 comments )
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I agree it may not be a goal for personal computing, but for the business sector, a web or intranet os is still very much a promising piece of the pie. A lot of government and business networks do run very much like a mainframe. The difference with a web or intranet os is most of them will use javascript, which is on the client side and doesn't have that much effect on the server itself. With so many office tools moving to a browser environment, its just a matter of time before the operating system does as well.
Posted by dem0 (24 comments )
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IMHO, Application Publishing (Citrix) already provides this type of environment. So really what would be the big deal? I can already have XP desktop via IE or Firefox with all the standard apps. The down side is every once in awhile the network disconnects and I lose access to my work. BTW, does it really matter javascript or whatever language to provide services. The end user could care less.
Posted by piggyshark (11 comments )
Link Flag
I Also Believe That Citrix is the way to go...
Cirtix provides the access a person needs across a secure company Intranet or VPN. Without moving to a mainframe type of scenario. I really don't feel like typing out the web mainframe scenario right now. But Citrix provides network access to your computer why you still retain the PC future.
Posted by StargateFan (122 comments )
Link Flag
re: "operating system"
I use the term operating system here loosely. With a true web or intranet os, the client side would just need enough of an operating system to run a browser.
Posted by dem0 (24 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft could port Windows to Java and run Windows applications within the browser.

I think Microsoft is working on a Java client for VirtualPC Server so they can host OS images on their web server and use the client to run Windows in the browser to let users take test drives of software without installing anything.
Posted by Orion Blastar (590 comments )
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Make sense ...
... way to go. With this technology,
the end of Windows piracy is near.
M$ will become M$$$$.
Posted by petermpham2003 (20 comments )
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