This is an odd post – I’ll say that from the outset. It really combines two topics, and both have to do with the cloud, at least a little.
Some time ago I posted that I bought an iPad to demonstrate a cloud application. True, anything that runs a web browser is “cloud-ready” – Azure is a platform, and any web browser will display a well-constructed application. I got it because I wanted the pure “shock value” of a Microsoft employee demonstrating our platform on a product we don’t make. Simple as that. It’s been fun watching people’s faces as I drag it out and run an Azure-backed application on it.
I was asked by a friend to comment on how the experiment with it is going – how I like it. And then, in a seemingly unrelated event, our Chief Software Architect, Ray Ozzie left Microsoft. He also published a blog entry, from which many news organizations are trumpeting the comments he made for Microsoft to “move on past the PC”. While my iPad experience and this comment might seem disparate, they are linked, at least for me.
First – let me address the comments made by Mr. Ozzie. He’s a very intelligent person – Bill Gates regarded him as one of the premier developers of our age – and of course he knows Microsoft much better than I do. I think the comments he’s made are true, but I don’t view them as a rebuke – not at all. In fact, I think they are both cautionary and encouraging. You see, we’ve adopted many of the concepts he espoused. We’re in the cloud – and that’s not marketing-speak. We have properties in almost every avenue of our business that are either completely on the web or positioned to be both web and on-premise. From systems in the cloud like Hyper-V and System Center to software in the cloud like Office 365 and many other properties, all the way to Windows Azure.
In fact, we’re moving so fast to the cloud that many people are still trying to learn to code not just local systems, but in Windows Azure – not worrying about controlling the operating system or delivery mechanism. If anything, we’re moving too fast for some people away from the PC. And that’s why I think Ray’s statements are encouraging – and I agree with them. I think we’re headed the right way, and I think at some point we will all worry more about what the code does than in the platform that supports it. It’s a device-independent strategy, and I’ve bet my career on it.
I’ve owned LOTS of tablet PC’s, from some of the earliest model. I still have a (broken) HPT1100 sitting somewhere around here, and I loved it. Used it on the bus to work my first couple of years here. And I do like the iPad. I’ve downloaded lots of apps, mostly book readers and financial news channels, and of course it’s primary role is as a TED player J. I got games for my kid to play with on it, and my wife looks up things in the yellow pages and keeps lists on it. I bought my very first pay-for app last night, an outlining tool for the writing and teaching I do.
But I wouldn’t replace it if it broke.
For one thing, it’s just too expensive. It really is. Without the gift card I had to get it, I wouldn’t have paid that amount of money for it. I could have gotten a laptop for that price. And it’s way too “closed”. I can only get apps from Apple, and only the ones they want me to have. It’s a brilliant model, and I congratulate them on it. But I don’t like it. And the coup-de-grace is, well, I can do everything on the web that I can do on the iPad. All of it. The only difference is the experience - the buttons are larger, and I can work offline (on some apps). Fix those things for a web site, and I really only need a web-browsing device. That’s it. Then the form factor (tablet, phone, laptop, TV, whatever) doesn’t matter. Build in a standard web browser to a device, and the “cloud” becomes the back-end – where it should be. And that’s Windows Azure.
So how do the two tie in? Well, I still need a laptop to do my job. I still need to code. I still need a keyboard. I still need an offline experience. So while Microsoft (in my opinion) is leading the way to the post-PC world, we’re not there yet. We’ll get there. But in the meantime, I like the ability to have both. I like my iPad just fine, but I need my laptop to make money to eat. Simple as that.
You can get offline webapps with google gears, or in silverlight with Sync Framework
Well said. One day we will look back at lugging around laptops/portables (remember the original Compaq luggable?) and laugh. And the idea of having niche devices (like cell phones, pda's, ipads, kindles, etc.) will seem preposterous. My vision is that we will have a mobile device that will fit in your pocket or purse that will connect to all of your data and applications and allow phone/video calls. Casual inputs and outputs will be done on the device, but serious I/O will take place on tv's/monitors and keyboard, mouse, and voice recognition that are stationary in our homes, offices, and public places.
Good point SQLChap. Web designers need to start thinking about bigger buttons (i.e. finger and phone navigation) and sensing the form-factor of what is accessing the site. Devices need to "tell" the site what they can and cannot support - not just from the browser level. I'll blog on this more later this week.
But the IPAD is just so simple. And Ray pointed out: complexity is killing Microsoft's products. I'll gladly take the apple handcuffs and limitations over Microsoft's "freedom"/complexity.
“Complexity kills. Complexity sucks the life out of users, developers and IT. Complexity makes products difficult to plan, build, test and use. Complexity introduces security challenges. Complexity causes administrator frustration.”
Allen - good points. But I'm advocating something WAY simpler than the iPad - a simple web browser.
And if you like Apple's products, great! I'm talking less about the front-end form factor - in fact I think Ray is saying we *shouldn't* care about the front end, that complexity you hate - and talking more about the processing. To me, that's the cloud. Building yet another front-end for the web (which is kind of what a tablet does today) is silly. Let's hit the web with a browser and be done with it. Total independence from any company's paradigm. Agreed?
Thanks for reading - and for commenting.
I use an iPad for business along with Macs in the office. The backends are all still based on Microsoft Server products, because that's where MS is still leading the way. It's still complex and as an admin it can get as frustrating as hell. I'm not complaining, it's Microsoft's 'complexity' that has kept me in work for so many years and I'm sure many more to come :-)
The iPad is a great client to some of Microsoft's cloud solutions. Mail works fine with Exchange, even better than Outlook in some instances. There are some tools lacking, like a comparable Excel and PowerPoint client.
However there is a great SharePoint client called SharePlus which is available on the iTunes store.
Browser only however still falls short, for example you can't run Silverlight based content nor anything that relies on ActiveX. In fact ActiveX support, or rather lack of it in any other browser other than IE is still something of an issue and something that MS should address, especially in their own products, if they want to be browser agnostic, which I am sure is their eventual aim.
I am also using Office for the Mac 2011 which is very good but sadly lacking in some crucial areas that make it non-event for my business users. Primarily to do with Excel (we're a financial business) and Outook (no dual time zone support for example). The lack of a public beta, I think, means MS missed some valuable input. I trust they will correct the problems swiftly this once people start feeding back the issues.
Anyway, that's my 2 penneth, keep up the good work.
Paul - interesting, thoughtful, respectful comments. Wow - that's rare these days - and thank you!
To be sure, there's a lot of work to do. I agree with most of your comments, with the exception that I still think Apple's products are too closed. But it is a great form factor, and I for one would like to see us return to "embrace and extend" rather than "fight and control". I think everyone makes money that way, and we end up with happy customers. Of course, I'm pretty low down in the belly of the big blue, so my opinion doesn't often count for much. :)