Steve Ballmer at UW: Is This Microsoft’s Cloud Computing Strategy, or Just Internet Software?

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when it was still mainly focused on desktop-based software and business users. Ballmer laid out what he called the five key opportunities of the cloud (I’ll relay only the parts that seemed particularly interesting):

1. “The cloud creates opportunities and responsibilities.”

This means “new business models and new opportunities to start and form businesses because of commercial software infrastructure that’s never existed before.” Ballmer talked about a “whole new class of creators of a wide variety of intellectual property.” He jabbed at open-source developers, who pride themselves on standing up to The Man. With the advent of commercial cloud platforms, Ballmer predicted, “Some creators will think, ‘How can I monetize?’” At the same time, he emphasized that companies need to be strong on security, and respect consumer privacy and “let the user be in control.”

2. “The cloud helps you learn, decide, and take action.”

This is where he started to diverge from my notions of cloud computing. Ballmer was really talking about creating an intelligent Web using techniques like machine learning. “We’re trying to take a look at information and glean meaning from it, and look at human behavior and glean intent,” he said. In terms of helping consumers make decisions and take actions, he showcased the new version of Bing Maps, whereby you can zoom in on cityscape images, in the manner of Microsoft Photosynth-meets-Google Maps, to get to street-level images that connect to shared Flickr images. The maps also incorporate tags and blogs that connect locations to social media in real time.

3. “The cloud enhances your social and professional interactions.”

This sounded mostly like how to do business networking and Web conferencing better, but then he demoed an Xbox Live system available in the U.K. for watching TV and interacting virtually with friends. Between this and its work on video and gesture interfaces like Project Natal, it’s clear Microsoft is trying to lead the way in connecting consumers in the entertainment realm.

4. “The cloud wants smarter devices to access it.”

As Ballmer put it, “The devices you use do matter.” So this is about making smarter software that enables simple and cheap ways for people to connect to the cloud. Case in point: the new Window Phone 7 operating system phone, which he described as a “relaunching” of Microsoft’s mobile products specifically designed for the Web. Previously, Windows Mobile was designed for “voice and legacy” users, he said. Now Microsoft’s mobile business has gotten with the Internet, and “with a different point of view than some other folks.” (I took that to mean Apple’s iPhone, although Ballmer … Next Page »

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