It sounds so wrong. Microsoft, one of the two remaining companies that helped bring the idea of personal computing into the mainstream is saying that the future it is betting on is in the “cloud”. How strange is that? That is somewhat like a black person from the 1870s stating that he was betting on the institution of slavery.

It goes against the very ideas that were the push for the development of DOS 1.0. Freedom, the ability to do things for oneself, to hold data secure unto oneself – all of these were the reasons for personal computing.

Now, in a story from PC Magazine, we have a message that Steve Ballmer has stated the company is betting its future on cloud computing. What a turnaround.

The trouble is, I don’t think Mr. Ballmer is doing anything but hedging bets, and being disingenuous in the process, because he knows (or should, anyway) that once cloud computing comes, Microsoft becomes irrelevant and unnecessary.

Microsoft is betting its future on cloud computing, chief executive Steve Ballmer said Thursday.

“The real thing to do today is to capture, what are the dimensions of the thing [cloud computing] that literally, I will tell you, we’re betting our company on, and I think pretty much everybody in the technology industry is betting their companies on,” Ballmer said during an appearance at the University of Washington.

Ballmer outlined five dimensions of cloud computing: the cloud creates opportunities and responsibilities; the cloud learns and helps you learn, decide, and take action; the cloud enhances your social and professional interactions; the cloud wants smarter devices; and the cloud drives server advances and drive the cloud.

Wow. That is certainly verbose to say basically nothing. Noting however, save for that one item at the end; the only bit of useful information in the entire statement. The cloud drives server advances.

That is going to be true. The thing is, the cloud in this case does not run necessarily on Microsoft software, because the cloud also does not necessarily run on Intel hardware.

I think that Mr. Ballmer forgot to engage his brain before he uttered the words above.

Related StoryJohn Dvorak: Microsoft should kill the cloud, not embrace it.

“The cloud fuels Microsoft, and Microsoft fuels the cloud,” Ballmer said. “About 70 percent of the folks that work for us today are either doing something exclusively for the cloud or is inspired to serve the five dimensions that I talked about today.

“A year from now, that will be 90 percent, he said.

That sounds ominous; like the end of Windows. Of course, as a thinking person, I know he is full of hot air and waste products, because Microsoft is so integrated with personal computing, and the Windows – Office paradigm, that it would take at least 5 years to see a small change in that direction. Inertia is a fact of many things, it not only is a concept of physics, it works in business also.

Cloud computing – or hosting applications and data in a nebulous collection of servers that’s not explicitly revealed to the client user – continues to be big business. Cloud-based offerings pulled in $46.4 billion in 2008, a number that was projected to increase to $56.3 billion in 2009 and $150.1 billion by 2013.

Microsoft Office 2010, due in June, will also be optimized for the cloud, Ballmer said. “We’re having some success. For the parts of our Office product that are already in the cloud, about 90 percent of the customers – at least institutions that we work with – choose us.”

Microsoft is moving toward storing data in the cloud as much, or more, than on a user’s hard drive – whether it be the movies that users can download via Xbox Live or TellMe, a voice-driven service that will handle about 10 billion spoken commands this year, Ballmer said.

Microsoft’s recent announcement of Windows Phone 7 will enable smarter devices, ones that were really designed for the cloud, Ballmer said.

The Windows phone thing is a total red herring, it will be a very small part of the market, for Microsoft has grandiose aspirations for their phones, ones that most people, including corporate types, don’t see use for. Simply because something can be done doesn’t mean that people will want to do it.

“Earlier versions of our phone, I think you’d say, were really designed for voice,” which Ballmer said was a “legacy” technology. Services – such as Windows Azure, SQL Azure, Microsoft SharePoint, and Exchange – lie on top of those and use those devices as input.

In response to a question about privacy, Ballmer said that user opinions vary. In January, Microsoft pushed for a bill to address privacy and security issues governing cloud computing.

That last line shows how ill conceived the ramblings of Mr. Ballmer are. The very nature of a cloud, somewhere off in the distance (damn, I hate that word cloud – it’s like a fairy tale that you tell a young child, like the concept of Santa Claus) where your information resides. That information, being centrally located, is going to make it easier for data thieves to grab enormous amounts of information. The breaches may be fewer, but when they come, they will be an order of magnitude beyond anything seen thus far.

The problem in the end is that Microsoft is not, and never really wanted to be, like IBM. If any change in the pecking order comes as a result of “the cloud” catching on, it will be IBM, Oracle, and others that know what distributed computing, and client-server computing are all about on the grand scale. That doesn’t say Microsoft; that says the companies that make and use the big iron.

The only bad thing is that, if Ballmer is right, his company will become a lesser (possibly minor) player, and, if only Sun had held on just a little longer, it could have been a big player again. Oh, and his fears about Google…they were well founded.

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Quote of the day:
The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern.

– Lord Acton

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