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Microsoft is dreaming in the clouds, when it comes to its new OS

Microsoft and free aren't words that you expect together in a sentence.  While the prolific operating system maker has been generous in offering discounted licenses to students and to developing nations, it has always made sure it got its fair slice.

Well for a limited time, developers will get to use and test a unique new OS from Microsoft -- Windows Azure -- entirely for free.  The new OS marks the release of Microsoft's long awaited cloud computing operating system.

For those in the dark about cloud computing, you're not alone -- the abstract concept is a new one and very challenging to developers.  In basic principle, it’s the concept of offloading tasks from workstations to cloud clusters -- high powered groups of servers.  This setup leverages modern high-speed internet connections to deliver data storage, applications hosting and more.

Cloud computing is tremendously popular, as it is widely viewed as the future of web hosting.  One key reason for this is that cloud computing allows applications to easily scale to match rising or falling demand, without shifting local hardware.  In order to deliver increasingly rich applications over an internet interface, moving to a cloud computing architecture becomes increasingly necessary.  However, until now cloud computing lacked a single iconic operating system specially designed for it.

That has all changed with the release of Microsoft's Azure.  The new OS is a community preview, available free to any developers.  This is a slight departure from Microsoft's RM/Beta/Alpha sequence typical to many of its operating systems, though it has done community previews of other releases before. 

"How long until the OS hits the market," is one question many will ask.  Microsoft's Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie was on hand to answer questions about the new OS, and he fielded this one.  He stated, "Well, when we finally determine that it achieves the objectives from a completeness perspective and a reliability perspective that our customers would expect of us, then we'll go commercial. And when it does, it will be profitable from birth because we're going to price it to be that way."

While Microsoft's OS is similar, according to Mr. Ozzie, to Amazon's EC2 web service in some respects, it is overall rather unique.  Some users will be confused, he says, to restart their computers only to find their hard drives empty.  Despite the .NET foundation, developers will have to adapt to the new storage system and adapt to the new error handling system.

Mr. Ozzie says that Microsoft's growing interest in data centers and serving is the key to the company's success.  He says, "It's a business that we will be in probably as long as there will be a Microsoft. ... Cloud computing is ultimately going to be 'do you trust this provider to have more to lose than I have to lose as a company if they mess me up?' And Microsoft has both the capacity to invest and the willingness to be in that end of a business, and give that kind of a trust assurance to developers and enterprises."

While many outside the development community will  meet the news of this new Microsoft OS with a bit of confusion as it’s not something they can easily experience, the bottom line is that this OS will help drive a new generation of feature-rich websites.  And while cloud computing from an architecture standpoint might be perplexing to some, being able to use rich applications like word processing online, with free storage, would be easy to understand, and a highly desired development.

As for Mr. Ozzie, he firmly believes the new OS represents the future of Windows, and is perhaps more critical than even Windows 7.  He says that in 20 years, cloud computers will be household items and the once foreign concept will have been embraced, much as the personal computer was two decades ago.  Says Mr. Ozzie, "It's a new kind of computer that 20 years from now we'll wonder how we did without."

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RE: Cloud Computing Security
By Procurion on 10/29/2008 10:20:58 AM , Rating: 4
Agreed. Why don't we have places where we can just put all of our checkbooks and personal papers....just hand them to thru a window to someone we can't see? All of my companies records, scripts for movie ideas, books I may write? I think the answer is obvious. These are personal and private. You will never, ever see me storing personal data in a cloud network. I WILL NOT BE ASSIMILATED!!!

RE: Cloud Computing Security
By therealnickdanger on 10/29/2008 10:25:20 AM , Rating: 2

I feel as you do on this one, but there was a time when people said the same about buying products online... and that was only 10 years ago.

RE: Cloud Computing Security
By tedrodai on 10/29/2008 11:32:52 AM , Rating: 3
I never had any qualms about buying products online, but I sure as heck won't ever be storing personal information on a cloud computer (intentionally). Cloud computing has its uses, I'm sure, but that doesn't mean it'll get rid of the need for personal computers.

RE: Cloud Computing Security
By othercents on 10/29/2008 11:50:19 AM , Rating: 3
What about in reverse? In cloud computing can the provider be sued for storing and distributing copy-writed material? What happens to my iTunes with 500+ songs on it? Then you also have the issue of big brother where my 500+ songs get deleted because they can't confirm if the songs were legal or not.


RE: Cloud Computing Security
By omnicronx on 10/29/2008 1:24:53 PM , Rating: 2
You guys are looking far too deep into this. This is not going to replace your home desktop anytime soon. The entire point of cloud computing is to free up your resources and lower system requirements on client computers. What point would there be of having cloud setup if it required you to have a server in your home when the majority of families have only one or two computers. Having to buy a server would be more costly, which totally negates the point of cloud computing.

This is going to be used first in the business environment, then may trickle down to home use in a number of years, if it ever does.

RE: Cloud Computing Security
By drebo on 10/29/2008 3:48:31 PM , Rating: 2
You're thinking about this in the wrong way.

What they're talking about is exactly what you're saying it's not. You're treating this as if it were a distrubuted computing effort similar to HP's blade workstations or even a Citrix/TS thin client setup. That's not what this is.

In cloud computing, the cloud is the internet. The public internet. You have a small system at your home that is low-cost, low-power that runs a small OS which connects you, via the internet (or cloud), to a server which houses all of your applications. You buy your cheap device, pay for an internet connection, and then pay Microsoft a fee to be able to connect to this service, giving you access to all of the applications they want you to have.

Personally, I don't think that US broadband internet services are up to snuff yet, but I think the idea is very sound. Software-as-a-service is the future of software sales, and this so-called "cloud computing" is the first step toward bringing that to the general public.

RE: Cloud Computing Security
By MrPoletski on 11/2/2008 9:47:39 AM , Rating: 2
... just look at steam, while it's not a per-month thing it is a sealed software environment that has installed applications tagged to your unique user account. You buy within steam, you install within steam and you run within steam. .

Now combine this with an MMporg style game (like eve, which is now available on steam) and you have basically the same environment (for your games only) as a cloud computer.

Now offload some of the content on to the web and have it download it as required to save space. You might even include streaming data. This is basically what it is.

Now expand steam so that it is your OS and runs everything, not just games. Now we have this new microsoft product.

RE: Cloud Computing Security
By Dreifort on 10/31/2008 11:14:46 AM , Rating: 2
is this Microsoft's attempt to thwart netbooks?

RE: Cloud Computing Security
By Neutrion on 10/29/2008 9:11:05 PM , Rating: 3
Many companies store your info (CC #, CVV #, your name, address, etc.) for years when you buy from them. Just look at all of the scandals over the last year of the major corporations and their "massive leaks of customer information."

Before we go off the deep end, let's see what this actually is.

RE: Cloud Computing Security
By omnicronx on 10/29/2008 11:47:46 AM , Rating: 2
You store personal data on your school/business computer?
As these are the environments cloud computing would be implemented, I seems to me that you are just a fool storing personal data on your computer in the first place.

Microsoft is not trying to get you to replace your home windows computer with a web based cloud computing client in which you personal data is stored elsewhere. I too would not accept this solution. But in this situation it is no different than storing data on a network drive, which personaly, all of my sensitive work data is stored, as it is backup up nightly. Having sensitive data only stored on your personal computer is far more risky, you never know when your computer is going to crash, or a piece of hardware will fail.

RE: Cloud Computing Security
By drebo on 10/29/2008 1:50:24 PM , Rating: 4
Microsoft is not trying to get you to replace your home windows computer with a web based cloud computing client in which you personal data is stored elsewhere.

Actually, that's EXACTLY what they're trying to do. Low-cost thin clients for the masses.

RE: Cloud Computing Security
By Mojo the Monkey on 10/29/2008 4:49:07 PM , Rating: 2
Well, then I foresee this being being the first REAL threat to Microsoft's dominance in their field. If you acquire and easily change your cloud operating system, its going to level the playing field for the other players waiting in the wings.

I think that this is where the rumors of the Google cloud OS come into play. If I cant use my OS to run high-intensity apps or games, its not going to take much more than a cheaper (or free), more intuitive solution to make me switch to something else, especially not being time-invested like you are with a multiple-hour install process. (Windows [all])

RE: Cloud Computing Security
By drebo on 10/29/2008 6:22:50 PM , Rating: 3
Well, this particular software solution IS a Microsoft initiative. I wouldn't put it past Google to offer something similar, though.

The idea behind this is that you pay a small amount for an appliance device which lets you connect to the internet and to their cloud operating system. There wouldn't be any interoperability because the particular cloud "server" would only run its type of OS. So Microsoft's clouds would allow this Windows Azure client OS to connect to them. All software and data is store on their servers, and they allow you to use them.

Where this is useful is for the vast majority of low-income, low-usage consumers. People who only use their computers for email, word processing, and to surf the internet. They don't need a full-featured computer at their home. They can connect to the cloud for a nominal fee and get access to all of their applications without having to buy them.

In an ideal world, you'd see something like tiered software packages. For $10/mo, you get access to IE, Outlook, Works, maybe. For $20/mo, you get access to Microsoft Office and Expression in addition to the above. It would be nice to include other publishers such as Adobe in there as well. Most people cannot afford to pay the absurd sums for Photoshop or Dreamweaver, but would like to use.

Again, this is a step toward the software-as-a-service model. While it's not the answer for everyone, it is a good alternative (as long as it's priced right) for people who cannot afford all the extras that go with a computer. For instance, a computer with XP, Office Home and Student, a flat screen, and mouse+keyboard costs about $1000. At $20/mo, assuming $400 cost of acquisition for the device and monitor/keyboard/mouse, that's 30 months of service for the same amount and a generous pricetag on the equipment. You would probably see providers offering the quipment for free or heavily discounted in exchange with a contract term, similar to cell phones.

There is usefulness to a product like this. But, again, I think US broadband internet is far too underdeveloped at this point.

RE: Cloud Computing Security
By Neutrion on 10/29/2008 9:07:42 PM , Rating: 2
Does your personal data go INTO that network? I saw it as a set of programs you could use that stores your data on your machine. There was a version of WordPerfect (a long time ago) that allowed you to trial the program online (and also I think Microsoft allows this with Office) that you can use the software off of the internet and save to your local harddisk.

I guess at worst the data is there for three seconds, but that is still three seconds too long. If they can get the saving function to the user's machine, that may be better.

I'm not sure how I feel on this. We'll need to let it develop to see more about it for a better feel of the issues and strengths, not the knee-jerk "OMG A CHANGE IN THINKING I CAN'T D0 IT!!!!111oneoneeleven"

RE: Cloud Computing Security
By PrinceGaz on 10/30/2008 4:32:59 AM , Rating: 3
You don't understand what cloud-computing is.

Your PC will essentially be relegated to a role as being a dumb terminal, with the software application you are using, along with whichever file you are working on being on the remote server.

I for one will continue to use apps that I run from my local hard-drive, rather than acting as a terminal to something Google or Microsoft are running for me. And all my documents will definitely be held locally where I know who has access to them, and can back them up myself onto a DVD.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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