On October 22 Microsoft released the successor to Windows Vista, Windows 7, and while excitement for the operating system mounted prior to its release, many are suggesting that its arrival is a sign of the end of computing on personal computers and the beginning of computing solely in the cloud. Existing cloud services like social networking, online games and web-based email are accessible through smart-phones, browsers or other client services, and because of the availability of these services Windows 7 is Microsoft’s fist operating system to include less features.
Although Windows is not in danger of extinction, cloud computing makes its operating systems less important. Other companies are following in Microsoft’s footsteps by launching products with fewer features than even Microsoft 7. In September, Microsoft opened a pair of data centers containing half a million servers between them and subsequently issued a new version of Windows for smart-phones. Perpetually ahead of the curve, Microsoft also launched a platform for developers, the highly publicized Azure, which allows them to write and run cloud services.
In addition to changing the game for Microsoft, the growth of cloud computing also heightens competition between the computer industry. Thus far, advancements in technology have pushed computing power in the opposite direction of central hubs (as seen in the shift from mainframes to minicomputers to PCs), while power is now being inverted back to the center in some ways, with less expensive and more powerful processors and faster networks. Basically, the cloud’s data centers are outsized public mainframes. While this is occurring, the PC is being pushed aside by more compact, wireless devices like netbooks and smart-phones.
The lessened importance of the PC enables companies like Apple, Google and IBM to fill in the gap caused my Microsoft’s former monopoly. There are currently hundreds of firms offering cloud services, and more by the day, but as The Economist points out, Microsoft, Google and Apple are in their own league. Each of the three companies has its own global network of data centers and plans on offering several services while also seeking to dominate the new field by developing new software or devices. The battle between Microsoft, Google and Apple sees each company trying to one-up each other. For example, Google’s free PC operating system, Chrome OS, shows Google’s attempt to catch up to Microsoft, while Microsoft’s recent operating system for smart-phones shows Microsoft’s attempt to catch up with the Apple iPhone as all as Google’s handset operating system, Android. Did you follow all of that?
Comparing Google, Microsoft and Apple
Professor Michael Cusamano of MIT’s Sloan School of Management recently told The Economist that while there are similarities between Google, Apple and Microsoft, they are each unique enough to carve out their own spot in the cloud because they approach the trend towards cloud computing in different ways.
Google is most well known for its search service as well as other web-based applications, and has recently began diversifying, launching Android for phones and Chrome OS. In this way, it can be said that Google has been a prototype for a cloud computing company since its inception in 1998. Google’s main source of revenue is advertising, with the company controlling over 75% of search-related ads in the States (and even more on a global scale). Additionally, Google is seeking to make money from selling services to companies, announcing in October that all 35,000 employees at the pest-control-to-parcel-delivery group Rentokil Initial will be using Google’s services.
While Microsoft is commonly associated with Microsoft Office and Windows, the company’s relations to cloud computing are not as distant as one might think. Microsoft’s new search engine, Bing, shows the company’s transition into the cloud, as does its web-based version of Office and the fact that Microsoft now offers many of its business software via online services. Microsoft smartly convinced Yahoo! to merge its search and a portion of its advertising business with Microsoft because consumers expect cloud services to be free, with everything paid for by ads.
As evidenced by the iPhone, the epitome of have-to-have-it, innovative bundles of hard- and software, Apple is largely known for its services outside the cloud. Online offering like the App Store, the iTunes store and MobileMe (a suite of online services), however, show that Apple’s hunger to get a piece of the cloud computing pie is growing by the day. Apple is also currently building what many have suggested is the world’s largest data center (worth a whopping $1 billion) in North Carolina.
While Apple, IBM and Microsoft previously battled for the PC in the late 1980s and early 1990s, cloud computing is an entirely different game. Why? Well, for starters, much of the cloud is based on open standards, making it easier for users to switch providers. Antitrust authorities will play into the rivalry between the companies, and so will other possible contenders, such as Amazon and Facebook, the world’s leading online retailer and social network, respectively (not to mention Zoho and a host of others). An interesting fact thrown to the debate on who will emerge victorious is the fact that all current major contenders in the cloud computing race are American, with Asian and European firms not yet showing up in cloud computing in any major way (although Nokia’s suite of online services, Ovi, is in beginning stages). Visit Nubifer.com for more information.