At Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference on October 27 Ray Ozzie introduced Windows Azure, Microsoft’s foray into utility computing services. With this announcement Microsoft completes a sweeping collection of software and services. Once Azure is fully implemented, Microsoft software will run the gamut from mobile devices, game systems, and desktop software through large-scale enterprise applications and, now, an extensive suite of cloud-based services — from hosted versions of its enterprise applications through utility computing and storage options.
This puts Microsoft in a unique position to offer customers the option to mix and match a broad range of hosted and on-premises services, and provides the company with the ability to leverage its comprehensive mix of products across the enterprise and consumer markets. Just as Microsoft’s dominance in operating systems serves to advance its productivity software, and its desktop applications help to support its server products, the addition of hosted software and services to the company’s product portfolio gives it an unparalleled scope — and abundant opportunities for cross-selling.
Ironically — given the leverage this provides — Microsoft’s ability to integrate its various products has been sporadic historically, particularly in regard to the company’s Internet-based applications.
Microsoft’s current offerings for cloud-based storage, for example, include Windows Live SkyDrive and Office Live Workspace and Live Mesh — each offering one or more unique features on top of a similar cloud storage service. While it is perhaps sensible to avoid bundling all these features together into a single über-app — creating the online equivalent of feature-laden software like Microsoft Word — it’s less clear why each is based on a separate, isolated storage service.
Imagine providing users with a choice of interfaces for accessing a single, integrated cloud storage system. If you prefer a simple folder-based model of cloud storage and file sharing, use the SkyDrive interface. If you would rather interact with your cloud-based documents directly from within Microsoft’s productivity tools, add the Office Live Workspace plug-ins for the Office products. If you want your content available both locally and remotely from multiple devices, use the Live Mesh tools.
These various ways of interacting with your online files should function as different portals into the same universe of content. You shouldn’t have to move your documents between various Microsoft hosted storage locations in order to use a different set of tools or services.
Now that Microsoft is on the verge of having all the pieces in place, it needs to focus on integrating them together to provide a seamless user experience across the cloud.