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We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the emptiness of the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
Ozzie wrote a memo to Microsoft and shared it with us, suggesting that we start dreaming about a post-PC world. But some of us have been doing that for years (see Why Closed Works: Moving Past Steampunk Thinking About The Future Of Computing, Not A Wall, A World: The Future Of User Experience).
Leaving aside the fact that envisioning a Post-PC isn’t very radical, at least outside of Microsoft, what does he suggest?
Continuous Services | Connected Devices
As we’ve begun to embrace today’s incredibly powerful app-capable phones and pads into our daily lives, and as we’ve embraced myriad innovative services & websites, the early adopters among us have decidedly begun to move away from mentally associating our computing activities with the hardware/software artifacts of our past such as PC’s, CD-installed programs, desktops, folders & files.
Instead, to cope with the inherent complexity of a world of devices, a world of websites, and a world of apps & personal data that is spread across myriad devices & websites, a simple conceptual model is taking shape that brings it all together. We’re moving toward a world of 1) cloud-based continuous services that connect us all and do our bidding, and 2) appliance-like connected devices enabling us to interact with those cloud-based services.
Continuous services are websites and cloud-based agents that we can rely on for more and more of what we do. On the back end, they possess attributes enabled by our newfound world of cloud computing: They’re always-available and are capable of unbounded scale. They’re constantly assimilating & analyzing data from both our real and online worlds. They’re constantly being refined & improved based on what works, and what doesn’t. By bringing us all together in new ways, they constantly reshape the social fabric underlying our society, organizations and lives. From news & entertainment, to transportation, to commerce, to customer service, we and our businesses and governments are being transformed by this new world of services that we rely on to operate flawlessly, 7×24, behind the scenes.
Our personal and corporate data now sits within these services – and as a result we’re more and more concerned with issues of trust & privacy. We most commonly engage and interact with these internet-based sites & services through the browser. But increasingly, we also interact with these continuous services through apps that are loaded onto a broad variety of service-connected devices – on our desks, or in our pockets & pocketbooks.
Connected devices beyond the PC will increasingly come in a breathtaking number of shapes and sizes, tuned for a broad variety of communications, creation & consumption tasks. Each individual will interact with a fairly good number of these connected devices on a daily basis – their phone / internet companion; their car; a shared public display in the conference room, living room, or hallway wall. Indeed some of these connected devices may even grow to bear a resemblance to today’s desktop PC or clamshell laptop. But there’s one key difference in tomorrow’s devices: they’re relatively simple and fundamentally appliance-like by design, from birth. They’re instantly usable, interchangeable, and trivially replaceable without loss. But being appliance-like doesn’t mean that they’re not also quite capable in terms of storage; rather, it just means that storage has shifted to being more cloud-centric than device-centric. A world of content – both personal and published – is streamed, cached or synchronized with a world of cloud-based continuous services.
Moving forward, these ‘connected devices’ will also frequently take the form of embedded devices of varying purpose including telemetry & control. Our world increasingly will be filled with these devices – from the remotely diagnosed elevator, to the sensors on our highways and throughout our environment. These embedded devices will share a key attribute with non-embedded UI-centric devices: they’re appliance-like, easily configured, interchangeable and replaceable without loss.
At first blush, this world of continuous services and connected devices doesn’t seem very different than today. But those who build, deploy and manage today’s websites understand viscerally that fielding a truly continuous service is incredibly difficult and is only achieved by the most sophisticated high-scale consumer websites. And those who build and deploy application fabrics targeting connected devices understand how challenging it can be to simply & reliably just ‘sync’ or ‘stream’. To achieve these seemingly simple objectives will require dramatic innovation in human interface, hardware, software and services.
Actually doesn’t sound like some astonishing insight, really.
But I wonder if he is hinting at his next start-up, where he can redo the synchronization engine of Lotus Notes and Groove Networks again. But that is pretty murky without the second chapter of his business plan, which he is probably getting ready to show to investors.
I seldom agree with Nick Carr in an unabridged fashion, but here’s the counter example:
[after a long recapitulation of Ozzie’s longterm vision of Microsoft’s technology vision to dominate future web services, Nick gets to the core.]
Ozzie closed his talk with an attempt to position Microsoft as the company best suited to dominate the cloud, as it’s dominated the desktop, through a combination of “software plus services”:
We’re building a platform to support our own apps and solutions, and to support our partners’ applications and solutions, and to support enterprise solutions and enterprise infrastructure. We are the only company in the industry that has the breadth of reach from consumer to enterprises to understand and deliver and to take full advantage of the services opportunity in all of these markets. I believe we’re the only company with the platform DNA that’s necessarily to viably deliver this highly leveragable platform approach to services. And we’re certainly one of the few companies that has the financial capacity to capitalize on this sea change, this services transformation.
I remember, back when the computing industry was going through its last great sea change, with the arrival of the personal computer, IBM assumed it was the “only company in the industry” with the customer base, the capabilities, and the cash to dominate the next generation of computing. But as a small upstart named Microsoft showed Big Blue, that ain’t necessarily so. Microsoft and Ozzie have been talking a good game about cloud computing for the past two years. But we’re still waiting for the Redmond team to take the field.
The likelihood is that Microsoft will be/is being blindsided by a wave of tiny startups that won’t be building anything on the Microsoft cloud. Microsoft may think they will dominate the cloud based on the attractiveness of their own software sitting there.
If a person like me can simply opt out of Office by using Google Docs and Neooffice, trust me, the majority of other professionals will follow in a few years. Ozzie is puffing another pipedream, just like Groove and Notes. Its a dream that sounds plausible to consultants who are in the business of building customized business systems (like the Notes value proposition), but a wholesale transition to Web 2.0 apps would invalidate that premise.
We’ll have to see, but I agree with Nick. Its too late and not enough. Microsoft looks like a dinosaur watching the meteor streaming across the sky overhead, about to crash and cataclysmically alter the environment. The last great Information Age company in the post-everything economy.