Microsoft insisted at its Worldwide Partner Conference that the cloud is the future, but says rich clients will continue to play a major role in accessing it.
Microsoft may have used its Worldwide Partner Conference to
push the cloud as the center of its corporate strategy-but as company
executives described it on several occasions, Microsoft's vision of the cloud
is one where rich clients, or devices capable of functioning without connection
to the Web or a server, continue to play a major part in the lives of consumers
and the enterprise.
The nuances of that rich-client strategy again place Microsoft in
competitive dichotomy with its largest rival in the online space, Google, which
has a vision for the future that centers on devices perpetually connected to
the Web. The search engine giant is currently developing a browser-based
operating system, Chrome OS, which will likely find its way onto netbooks and
Pushing a rich-client strategy also allows Microsoft to take advantage of
its area of traditional strength, desktop-based software. Rich clients with
more robust processors are capable of running higher-priced versions of
Windows, as well as other flagship platforms such as Office 2010.
"Many people, especially in corporate IT, they say we're only going to
use thin clients," Microsoft CEO Steve
Ballmer told the audience at the Verizon
Center during his July 12 keynote
address. "I don't believe that at all. I don't believe the cloud is a
place where thin clients will take over. Again and again, we see the advantage
of rich clients ... The world of tomorrow is a world of a smart cloud talking to
Rich clients, Ballmer continued, are suited for the cloud because they "can
be higher-performance; the rich device can do more on behalf of the user
without network latency; the rich device saves bandwidth."
In his speech, he seemed to reiterate a Microsoft talking point that has
come up periodically over the last year or so, that applications and programs
will still need to draw on the desktop's muscle-even in an increasingly
cloud-based world. Other executives at the conference reinforced that message.
"Slates and phones are really rich, with some experiences that take
place in the browser and some that are not in the browser," Robert Wahbe,
corporate vice president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Marketing Group, said
in a July 12 interview with eWEEK. By providing the extra processing power
needed to run software downloaded from the Web, he said, "rich devices
complement the cloud."
Wahbe continued, "People are carrying around multiple devices, and they
expect them to be optimized for that experience."
Ballmer has targeted the thin client before. In
the summer of 2009, during Microsoft's annual Financial Analyst Meeting, he
dismissed the utility of browser-based
specifically Google's Chrome OS, and of thin
"We have competitors who say they believe in thin clients," he
told the assembled analysts. "What they are really saying is they believe
in the browser operating system ... But don't think there is some magic
technology, [a] revolutionary thing that they believe in differently."
During that meeting, Ballmer touted a line of ultrathin PCs scheduled to
debut by 2010, which would provide the lightweight form factor of a netbook, a
"thinner" device, with enough processing power to presumably run a
higher-cost version of Windows.
"We want people to be able to get the advantages of lightweight
performance and be able to spend more money with us," he told the
While rich clients offer Microsoft the chance to clear higher margins on its
software, the company has nonetheless taken pains to embrace more
browser-centric, thin-client-suited initiatives; its new Office Web Apps, for
example, allow document viewing and editing via the browser for users with a
free Windows Live account.