Its also possible, even if people are discounting the idea, that Microsoft will use the servers to offer thin-client versions of Office. That would, at least potentially, open Linux desktops up to colonization by Office. That makes the idea interesting, at least in concept.
But back to the Web services idea. We already know that Microsoft is gaga over Web services. We also know that Microsoft wants to shift revenue away from products and toward services and subscriptions.
What better way to achieve these goals, at least in the short term, than to create servers that offer spreadsheets or forms or graphics services to other applications?
This could be implemented much like Microsofts current MapPoint Location Server. In this case, the server generates and delivers an on-demand map based on location information provided by another application. Look at the store finder on Starbucks Web site, and youll see the server in action.
The location server sits in the middle of an application, gathering location information from cell phones and submitting it to the map server, which delivers a graphical map in response.
The location server sits at the customers site, but the maps are generated by a Microsoft-owned server, and the customer pays for each map generated. They dont pay a lot, but I once figured that a typical customer transaction on the Starbucks site would generate about 5 cents for Redmond.
This "nickel-and-diming," if youll excuse the pun, could be how Microsoft plans to earn its future revenue. Not today or tomorrow, but someday—and in the time frame of demonstrations Microsoft is already showing.
If youre interested in software-as-a-service and utility computing, then Microsofts "on-demand" and "pay for what you use" servers might be just the way youd want to buy your Microsoft fix sometime in the future.
As to when, I cant say. But I have seen a Microsoft demonstration that shows such a world from a user desktop perspective. The demo is part of Microsofts Center for Information Work, a demonstration facility located on its corporate campus. There, enterprise customers are shown a world in which applications as we know them no longer exist.
The demonstration, which Microsoft always makes clear is conceptual and not a product design, shows how a user might interact with messages—entering text and seeing Excel-like graphics—but none of the familiar Office apps ever appear. Instead, the user interacts with an application that itself interacts with various server-provided services.
Its just an animated demonstration—no real server code is powering it—but the demonstration clearly shows one direction in which Microsoft is thinking. And Redmond is thinking about it seriously enough that the demo is being shown to the companys most important customers.
These customers presumably understand the complexities of creating such a service-based world and know not to expect it either soon or in the precise form Microsoft is showing today.
Enterprise customers also understand that Microsoft always walks and usually stumbles before it runs. Even then, it takes several generations for new technology to be widely accepted and used. But if you believe Web services are a big part of Microsofts future, then creating server versions of its core desktop applications makes a very nice baby step. I say, bring em on, and lets get started.