Steve Baller, Microsoft CEO, spoke earlier this week about the next release of Windows being the company’s “riskiest product bet”.
What did Ballmer mean though? The notoriously loud and cheery CEO made his comments at the Gartner Symposium on October 21. A brief question was fired at Ballmer over what the next riskiest product bet would be and Ballmer simply said the next version of Windows. Earlier this year a number of Windows 8 product slides leaked from a HP employee that pointed towards some new product features. Kinect integration, a Windows App Store and fast boot were all promised. The slides didn’t focus heavily on Microsoft’s cloud strategy for Windows 8 however.
Winrumors understands from insiders close to the Windows 8 project that the software giant is betting massively on cloud integration in Windows 8. The company has been slowly hinting at its cloud strategy since it introduced Windows Azure at PDC 2008. Microsoft’s Enterprise Software is delivered with an online service with an option and even the company’s Office productivity suites are nearly fully available in cloud versions. Microsoft is planning to integrate the cloud into Windows 8 in a variety of ways. The base of Windows Explorer will feature deep integration with the company’s SkyDrive storage and the ability to easily and quickly share media to your social networks will be integrated into the Windows Shell. Microsoft’s Windows App Store will feature applications hosted on the company’s Windows Azure service and will reduce the need for local data. Microsoft is trying to realise its vision of “three screens and a cloud”. Settings and application data will be automatically synced into the cloud to allow users to sync their application sets and settings across any Windows 8 based PC, laptop, slate or phone.
What’s the riskiest part of this strategy? It all sounds perfect but the one concern is privacy. Ballmer believes that privacy in the cloud is achievable. “People are going to insist on privacy in the cloud, and there’s no reason why smart technical people can’t deliver on both,” he said. Microsoft has to strike a fine balance between functionality and the risk of user data being leaked. The product is also risky so soon after Windows 7 which is widely recognised as a huge success for Microsoft. Microsoft has tried to make big changes to Windows in the past (think Longhorn which became Vista) and has failed. I don’t expect Microsoft will be delivering a final version of Windows 8 in 2011, they’ll be able to ride the success of Windows 7 and work to make Windows 8 an revolutionary operating system.