WPC, Windows Phone 7, Cloud Dominated Microsoft's Week

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2010-07-18

WPC, Windows Phone 7, Cloud Dominated Microsoft's Week

Microsoft's week revolved around its Worldwide Partner Conference, which took place in Washington, D.C., July 11-15. The cloud, along with Windows Phone 7, dominated much of the conversation at the event; Microsoft has positioned both as absolutely vital parts of its future strategy.

The WPC is Microsoft's venue for touting the benefits of the company's partner network. Each day of this year's nearly weeklong show began with a high-profile keynote in the city's Verizon Center, after which the nearly 20,000 attendees headed to the nearby Convention Center for tutorials, seminars and an expo.

"We've been shouting about 'O Cloud' at the WPC now for about four years," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told the audience gathered to hear his July 12 keynote. "There's no question that Microsoft has chosen to embrace that path together with all of you, and there's no question that there's more to do."

Ballmer suggested that his company's work with its own cloud-based IT infrastructure-used to deliver services such as Bing and Hotmail-informed its development of the cloud services it plans to deliver to businesses. Although the cloud will theoretically remove much of the cost and complexity associated with those businesses' IT departments, for Microsoft it also brings a particular brand of challenge.

"When customers put their data into our system," Ballmer said, "when they entrust more and more of their data and operations to us, there's the need to do a better job on reliability, security, privacy."

But Microsoft also plans to enable businesses to create their own cloud, so to speak, with the newly announced Windows Azure Platform Appliance, a service that brings the capabilities of Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud-development platform into an individual enterprise's data center.

Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server & Tools Business, took the stage after Ballmer to describe the philosophy behind the Appliance. "It's important for our partners to build their own public and private clouds within their data center," he said. "[Windows Azure Platform Appliance] is a service coming from Microsoft and run in your own data center ... that you then run on hardware you own or have rented within our own data center." All capabilities of Windows Azure, apparently, will run via the Appliance.

Muglia compared the Appliance to a set-top box for either cable or satellite television. "When you have your television, you are getting a service through your television provider," he said. "You turn on the TV, and it works. But you control which channels you want to watch, and so on. That's exactly what we're doing with the Windows Azure client."

While Amazon.com offers infrastructure as a service and companies such as Salesforce.com offer software as a service, Microsoft is apparently pursuing what Muglia termed "IT as a service"-via a combination of Windows Azure and other cloud-based products that fulfill multiple functions within the enterprise. 

Ballmer Touts Windows Phone 7


In his July 12 keynote, Ballmer also touted the upcoming Windows Phone 7, which Microsoft hopes will allow it to compete more heartily in the mobile arena against the likes of the Apple iPhone and Google Android. Windows Phone 7 consolidates Web content and applications into a series of subject-specific "Hubs," in a departure from rival models' gridlike pages of individual apps.

"This is a terribly important area to us," he said, referring to both smartphones and Windows 7-based tablet PCs. "We need to push this from a Microsoft perspective. We want to give you a great consumer-oriented device, a device that is manageable with today's IT solutions."

In that spirit, Ballmer yet again offered a mea culpa for Microsoft's declining market share in the smartphone arena: "We missed a generation with Windows Mobile. We really did miss a release cycle." He made no mention of the Kin phones, aimed at a younger and social-networking-happy demographic, which recently met a mercifully brief but ignoble end after a few weeks' worth of anemic sales; the scale of that failure, with the associated tens of millions of dollars in costs, had led some pundits to question Microsoft's ability to execute its larger mobile strategy.

Microsoft's task at this juncture is to convince developers that the platform is a viable one for building applications. Windows Phone 7 will leverage Silverlight and XMA to build rich content and 3D games. Features for developers include a Microsoft Location Service, for acquiring location information via a single point of reference; Microsoft Notification Service, for pushing information to the device; Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone; and a Windows Phone 7 Series Emulator for testing.

In conjunction with the WPC, Microsoft released its Windows Phone Developer Tools Beta, available from this site.

"The term 'beta' is understood to mean that things are close to finished," Brandon Watson, Microsoft's director of developer experience for Windows Phone 7, wrote in a July 12 posting on The Windows Phone Developer Blog. "It's time to get serious about building the actual apps and games for Windows Phone 7 that consumers will be looking for starting this holiday season."

Given the recent success of the Apple iPad and the plans by manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard to release their own tablet PC offerings in coming months, Microsoft executives spent conference time discussing their plans for Windows 7-loaded tablets.

"You will see a range of Windows 7 slates," Ballmer promised during his keynote. "They will run Windows 7. They will run Office. They will accept ink- as well as touch-based input."

Despite Microsoft's public enthusiasm for the concept, however, it potentially faces an uphill battle in persuading manufacturers to adopt Windows 7 as an operating system for tablets. A number of those companies have been publicly mulling-or outright announcing-whether to install Google Android on their upcoming slates. In addition, HP recently confirmed that it will use its newly acquired Palm WebOS for its own tablet.

"The Windows PC operating system does not lend itself to a touch-screen tablet experience," John Spooner, an analyst for Technology Business Research, wrote in a research note after HP announced it would acquire Palm for $1.2 billion. "Microsoft itself is finding the tablet PC market more complicated than expected."

Other analysts have suggested that the key to making Windows 7 a viable part of the tablet ecosystem is to strip down the operating system. During a June 3 talk at the D8 conference, Ballmer indicated that a customized version of Windows could run on tablets-but other executives have offered no word on whether such a modification is under way.

In any case, despite its focus on mobile devices and the cloud, Microsoft also seems determined to push a strategy of rich clients-devices capable of functioning without connection to the Web or a server.

"Many people, especially in corporate IT, say we're only going to use thin clients," Ballmer told the audience during his 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 smart devices."

In Ballmer's vision, rich clients 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."

Rich clients also offer Microsoft the chance to clear higher margins on its software. But the dichotomy between the company's desire to promote those more robust devices, amid the industry's trend toward thin, mobile devices that leverage the cloud, has the potential to create future tensions. As demonstrated at the WPC, Microsoft has plans for the cloud-the question now is how well they'll execute.  

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