Tag Archives: Microsoft

What is the Cloud anyway?

Lost in the Cloud #2

It was, hm, some years ago, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in between listening to Friday night jazz sets, and I was trying to explain to some friends what “the cloud” was. IBM had already starting to promote the concept of “the cloud”, and Microsoft was not that far behind. In IT, it was beginning to be a buzz word, just like all the other marketing labels foisted on us in the last twenty or thirty years. Clearly not that many people understood it yet. Except for the rare far-seeing visionaries, few people saw the power, the potential, the inevitability that was to become “the Cloud”. And though the term is now in common parlance, there are probably plenty of people who still want to ask, “What the hell are you talking about? What cloud?”

But don’t worry. I’m here to explain.

Other than its own defining article, “The”, the Cloud, is not much different than its real-world counterparts. Clouds are out there. Far away, up in the sky. They move, they disappear, they change, evaporate, and re-form. They do whatever they do, and unless they are up to no good, most people don’t even think about them. And that’s pretty much the story of “The Cloud”. It’s your data, accessible to you out there, and you don’t have to think much about it. And this isn’t even new.

Pretty much anybody on a computer, anybody using the Internet, was already using “the Cloud”—they just didn’t know it yet. How did this happen?

  • Email is the obvious one – All of you with your AOL, MSN, Yahoo, & Google mail “on the web” stored on some big company’s servers.
  • Facebook (and MySpace before it) – With all that personal information, photos, timeline, likes, accessible to just about anyone.
  • Flickr – And all the other photo-saving and sharing sites with thousands and thousands of your photos.
  • YouTube – Zillions of home videos, old home movies, and pirated clips of TV shows, and movies, and everything else.
  • iTunes – Jeez, let’s not forget the bizillions of songs, and albums, and playlists and reviews that Apple had up there-at first, just to buy and download and store on your own device, but that changed rapidly.

You get the idea. Everybody started pushing stuff up onto the Internet primarily to share it, but also to store it. As usual, Steve Jobs had some idea of where this was all headed. He understood this was going to be about storage. Storage players were beginning to appear – think DropBox and Evernote, with apps and access from many devices and platforms, and of course from the web browser. You could store your stuff, all kinds of your stuff, on the Internet (maybe even referred to by that time as “the Cloud”). It was safe there, presumably. (This was before we found out about our friends at the NSA). You didn’t have to worry about backing it up, or losing it if your computer was lost or stolen.

Apple tried pretty early on to capture and cash in on the consumer storage idea. But Apple stumbled a lot on this one. It was “Mac.com”, and then “Mobile.Me”, then “Me.com” – heck! I can’t even remember all the various names as Apple tried to re-brand and renovate this idea and eventually settle on (duh!) “iCloud”. At one point you could have your own web site, and photo galleries, and Internet storage that worked just like a disk drive, sort of… but it was all a moving target. Apple managed only recently to integrate iCloud into the MacOS, and iOS, and the Apple apps, and your data, along with iTunes and all the media available there. Microsoft, Google, even Amazon, are all competing with Apple in this same space. Who gets to sell you stuff? Who gets to keep it for you? In “the Cloud”. This “ecosystem” wasn’t just devices, it was storage, of your stuff, by someone else, away from your home—and eventually, storage of your work stuff away from your office.

Because the move of data —by businesses—into the Cloud, is another part of the story, to be addressed by TechWite, another time! TFSB!

The Incipient Cloud

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For decades IT people have made diagrams of their networks and data centers with lightning bolts that point from someplace local to a fluffy blob. Riding from the local computers and corporate data center and LAN, all the data and email and files and voice telecommunications, everything, rides that lightning bolt and disappears into this blob, which was sometimes called a “network cloud”. That cloud was a little symbol to represent the enormous external private and public networks that we now generally refer to as “the Internet”.

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Unpredictable Issue#83

Unpredictable Issue#83.  That’s right, I’m re-discovering old content. From the end of 2000 to 2007, I wrote 83 issues of my newsletter “for Macintosh” and eventually also “iPod” users. Those were the days my friend. The final days of Microsoft’s Monopoly Game, the Return of the Steve, Windows Ex Pee, and the introduction of Oh Ess Ten. The Eunuchs took over Apple and forgot a Whole Lot about what makes a good user interface. Features that were GFD (Good for Demos) and interface options that were TOTE (Too Obvious to Explain). It was the era of the Geek Speak Review, when for a short time, I offered to work at Apple as the EVIP of DRAT.  Times haven’t changed much, we’ve got the FCC giving away the Internet, and Comcast buying it, the iOS team re-learning what works and what doesn’t, and everybody lost in the cloud. LIfe is good, and Tech is worth Witing about!

Lost in the Cloud

How did we get here?

Many years ago, before there was yet a new millenium—much less a generation to be named after it—Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates had clearly dominated the desktop computer marketplace with their super-successful Windows operating system and Microsoft Office combination. They had done very well, but not everyone was using Windows. That pesky Steve Jobs was still chipping away with his “non-business” Apple products. Especially in the Education market – that is: schools. Bill kind of enjoyed watching Jobs to see what he’d come up with next, but not Ballmer. He wanted to crush Apple. Period.

Turning their attention to the education market, Bill and Steve opted for the best and fastest way to compete. Philanthropy. They gave away Windows and Office to schools. This polished Microsoft’s image in the press. And at low cost. Microsoft’s many corporate clients had already financed Windows and Office, and with little competition, were locked into complex licensing agreements for years to come. This was great; Bill and Steve could write off the education donations at their full retail value—hundreds of dollars per unit. But, this wasn’t good enough for Ballmer. The problem was, it still cost Microsoft to ship boxes with disks, and manuals, and marketing materials to schools. “There’s got to be a better way!” He told Bill.

Bill thought about this. And then, he brought up a new idea with Ballmer: “What if we just gave them the ‘software license’? They can download and distribute it themselves. No disks, no manuals. We just send them a fancy postcard with a number on it. They’re responsible for the electrons. We just host the stuff on our servers. What do you think?”

“Brilliant!!” Ballmer beamed. “Full retail price tax write off for the cost of a post card!!”

And so began Microsoft’s ventures into electronic software distribution, to be rapidly followed by the “subscription model”.

To be continued…