> Five Years Ago.....

Five Years Ago.....

Posted on Friday, October 29, 2010 | No Comments

Five years ago, Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie (the man who replaced Bill Gates at Microsoft), wrote a company wide memo entitled “The Internet Services Disruption” where he laid out the future vision of where he planned to take the direction of the company. This future was a world of cloud computing platform where services and applications could be built and housed.

Fast forward and Ray has finally issued a follow up to his world famous memo, this time entitled “Dawn of a New Day” and this new memo sets the next strategic direction for the company and for the industry as a whole to take the next step towards Ozzie’s vision of the future. The memo makes for interesting reading and really starts to make you think about the computer industry in its current state, how far it’s progressed and where next it will be going – for me it’s inspirational and makes me feel good about what is on the horizon for the future.

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Complexity Kills

As someone who uses technology every day and someone who embraces the Internet, the devices we use to connect to these services and the people behind these things, its easy for me to forget that those who don’t necessarily follow the industry as closely or don’t use this technology every day can sometimes feel like they have been left behind or have no interest in the latest gadget. Its also quite easy to miss what has happened within the industry over the past few years; smart phones have become intuitive and easy to use expanding the market beyond the geekiest of geek and into the pocket of the many, tablet computers have finally made the transition between niche and into mainstream and new online services and applications have become intuitive and instantly useable to the average person.

Yet look beyond this simplicity of the UI and you start to uncover the complexities of just what is going on; a smart, intelligent device filled with a myriad of gadgets and toys (accelerometers, touch screens, sensors, etc), connecting seamlessly to an online and continuous service via a software application such as an app or a highly complex browser using a number of complex algorithms, protocols and add-ons. It really is a mixture and fusion of hardware + software + services.

All of this is much more apparent within the mobile phone market than the PC market right now, but there is no doubt that at least part of the PC market will head in this direction over the next few years. For me this will be the home computing market, the enterprise market in my mind is still a very different beast that needs to be controlled far more carefully due to the requirements for more compliance, increased security, data protection/sensitivity, network environmental factors, etc.

This is not to say the enterprise can’t or won’t follow a similar model, it just has to be adapted especially for this environment and a further level of complexity will be added – this will be no more complexity than most IT teams already have to deal with and most businesses should be able to transition accordingly, but assurances, guarantees and trust all need to be worked out; whether that is a trust between business to business or between the employer and each employee or even both.

Despite the challenges in this area, there will always undoubtedly be a cross-over of technologies and user demand will no doubt drive resolution for these challenges to be overcome. As users begin to use continuous cloud based services in their personal lives, eventually they will come to expect these same services or cross-connectivity with their professional lives – especially if their personal computing requirements are simplified down to intuitive and easy to use software and applications.

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Simplicity Rules

The reason modern devices seem to have simplicity about them is due to the way we interact with them; simply compare the traditional keyboard and mouse with the new touch screens and voice commands. Non-technical users are more likely able to respond to something they can physically reach out and touch and manipulate in a logical way (flicks and pinches), than learn the skills to move around a track pad or a difficult to tame mouse.

The blurring of the boundaries between application and browser is also significant here. Users are no longer afraid of installing applications that simply work out of the box without prompting any difficult questions – but removing the complexity for them, most users don’t realise that the application they are using is simply a cut-down ‘built for purpose’ mini-browser, connecting to a back-end service.

Is it therefore feasible to expect that the modern day browser will continue on a path of dilution for specific needs and requirements rather than an all encompassing entity for every eventuality? Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 may have already anticipated this market by being able to create application specific tabs from within the IE browser that each has their own custom tools or buttons to help navigate through the ‘online application’. In my opinion a single dynamic browser is far more appealing than specific mini-browsers or apps.

For the typical user the browser has become indistinguishable from the continuous service apps they currently use. Some work needs to be done here, but there will certainly be a tipping point at some point in the future as to which way the industry will aim for.

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Post-PC Device

Just as there may be a dilution of the modern day browser or a paradigm shift towards more dynamic web services presented through an all encompassing web browser(s). The discussion then needs to turn towards understanding what a post-PC device might be and how it will function.

The term ‘post-PC device’ first needs answer the question; are we really ready to shift away from a traditional PC onto other devices? In the home, unquestionably the PC has already begin to shift away from the traditional PC with the rise of cheap netbooks, simple to use smart phones, tablet computers and media centres, however in the workplace the PC and laptop still rules.

This mirrors the adoption of cloud based services in people’s home lives and the clinging of traditional server/desktop model and traditional applications within the workplace. Looking into the future, I find it hard to believe that this IT model will significantly change all that much over the next five years, however this will deeply depend on the company and any shift in business.

The cultural effect of the financial downturn has left large companies downsizing and more people possibly ready to take that risk towards setting up their own small businesses; and its these types of small businesses that are likely to jump and adopt these cloud bases services and more dynamic ways of working in a bid to reduce the costs of servers, networks and so on. Larger companies who already enjoy the benefits of having these assets in place are more likely to stick with them – or close variations of these devices. It will all come down to trust, security and reliance/assurances on ‘up time’ and availability verse large companies hosting their own cloud services rather than relying on others to create these services.

In the home environment, the devices used in the home are already more specialised – your Xbox provides entertainment, Kindle delivers written content, tablets used for casual browsing and interaction, smart phones for connectivity outside of the home and so on. Looking into the future I can only predict that these devices will be diluted down even further, especially as hardware becomes cheaper and users can increase the number of devices they are able to purchase.

It’s likely that the ‘three screens’ will remain predominant; a large display in the living room, a ‘main’ computer system and a primary mobile device. However other devices will make their way into the home; a kitchen device, a CPU for the home controlling lights, heating, security, water flow, displays in every room, wearable devices such as next generation smart watches, head-up displays, tablets, ebook readers, in-car entertainment systems, bicycle computers and beyond – all driven and interconnected by this cloud platform.

These devices won’t be versatile; they will be ‘appliance-like’ and perform unique tasks in a simplified and easily understandable format so they can be used by the masses instead of the geeky few. Their on-chip OS will be minimal and only capable of performing a unique set of tasks, the rest of work performed within the cloud, making them instantly-usable, interchangeable and replaceable – simply purchase your new device and log in and have your profile and data flood into the device and continue from exactly where you left off; no set up time, no lengthy installs, no data loss – simple, yet effective.

Again this will be a full circled fusion of hardware + software + services working together.

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Revolutionary

This paradigm shift towards the cloud, paired with these intelligent devices and elements of what we already know as social networking will revolutionise our lives and transform industries, start new ventures whilst simultaneously destroying others. All will face the same backdrop of issues that already exist today; privacy, trust, security, integrity of data, etc, but as the already 500 million Facebook users will testify, sharing of data is becoming more and more an every day occurrence.

Imagine devices that are able to proactively scan your location, healthy, track your life style and share these details with the online community – not necessarily other people, but with other services, resulting in a chain reaction of computing services designed to assist you throughout your day.

Your current location dictates everything that you do; recommendations for food, nearby events, movies, friends, or just about anything else you can think of - directing you to where you should be and ensuring that you get there on time without delay.

Clothing actively monitors your health, allowing real time monitoring of your vital statistics, a medical service creates telemetry of your body, looking for any obscure patterns and instantly putting you in direct contact with medical authorities if the system detects early symptoms or a further check up is required.

Breaking news, that is personalised to your interests and concerns are delivered to your mobile device. Messages in the forms of email, voice, video, speech are delivered and traded with your nearest and dearest in either real-time or on-demand at your leisure – with a trusted an online service actively scanning these messages and prioritising and alerting you depending upon the contents.

These devices will also be self preserving based upon intelligent design, shutting down or sleeping to preserve energy – and as the processing is done within the cloud, battery life will increase and last longer. However, these devices will also have new ways of replenishing, solar power, body heat and movement (kinetic), will all draw in power and keep the devices operating for days or weeks without requiring charge.

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“The first step for each of us is to imagine fearlessly; to dream”

In our industry, if you can imagine something, you can build it

Ray Ozzie has set the challenge for Microsoft to be bold, be inventive, dream and think big. They have laid the foundations for this vision of the future, now comes the building of the blocks for what sits upon this new foundation.

Some have commented that this vision of the future is a direct mirror of the same things Google and Apple are trying to achieve with their platforms; however I don’t believe this to be true – Ozzie is aiming beyond this current generation and planning ahead for the next. The problem for Microsoft is that they need to continue to work and support their existing generation and plan for the next with their Windows, Office and Enterprise software platforms, but their commitment to this future appears to be totally focused and they are ready to invent the future.

The next five years are going to be pretty interesting. The Future is coming....

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