Preston Gralla

Microsoft's embrace of the cloud is not as whole-hearted as Ballmer claims

March 05, 2010 1:35 PM EST
Steve Ballmer is heavily promoting Microsoft's wholehearted embrace of cloud computing, as evidenced by his sending out a memo to all Microsoft employees saying "when it comes to the cloud, we are all in." But that's not really the case. There are plenty of ways in which Microsoft doesn't truly embrace cloud computing, most notably in its upcoming release of Office 2010.

Ballmer recently spoke at the University of Washington, where he laid out Microsoft's vision for cloud computing. Here are what he called five "dimensions" of the cloud:

* 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

* The cloud drives server advances that drive the cloud
He followed that up the next day with an email memo to all Microsoft employees about Microsoft's vision of cloud computing, with the subject line "We're all in." It lays out his five dimension of cloud computing, and is a kind of call to arms to all employees. The memo, first obtained by TechCrunch, includes this statement:
Today, nearly every one of our products has, or is developing, features or services that support the cloud. As I said today, when it comes to the cloud, we are all in. We are all in across every product line we have and across every dimension of the cloud.
However, when it comes to Microsoft's most important and publicized upcoming product launch --- Office 2010 --- there is no "all in" embrace of the cloud. It's more a half-hearted pat on the back.

As I point out in my Computerworld review of the beta of Office 2010, the Web-based version of Office 2010 is somewhat anemic. In Excel, for example, you can't add charts. In PowerPoint, you can't add backgrounds to presentations, and you can't add animations between slides.

True, there are some other very good cloud-based features, such as collaboration tools when using SharePoint. But leaving out basic important features of the Web-based version of Office is far from a whole-hearted embrace of the cloud.

Even worse is that Office 2010 doesn't include automatic synchronization of files between Web-based and client versions. So when you work on the Web version of Office, those files stay in the cloud, and when you work on the client version, those files stay on your local PC. You can save files from one to the other, but can't automatically synchronise them, something that Google Docs does.

This is a major shortcoming of the Web-based version of Office, because it will lead to an enormous amount of confusion, overwriting new files with old ones, and simply not knowing which is the latest version of a document that you're working on.

What's baffling about this is that Microsoft has two excellent, free synchronization tools designed for this very purpose --- Windows Live Sync, and Windows Live Mesh. It could easily tie them to Office, but chose not to. Again, that's not a wholehearted embrace of the cloud.

If Microsoft were fully embracing the cloud, it would also release a consumer version of the Web version of Outlook. Corporations have had a Web-accessible version for a while, but individuals don't. Microsoft could easily create a Web version of Outlook for consumers. If it truly embraced the cloud, it would do just that.

There's no doubt that Microsoft has recognized the cloud is the future, and it's clearly making a serious push into the cloud. But when it comes to one of its flagship products, Microsoft Office, it still has a long way to go.

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