Microsoft, The Death Of
Written by Erik Neff   
Saturday, 25 February 2006
With the latest onslaught of musings that Microsoft's forthcoming operating system Windows Vista will not be quickly adopted, the future of Microsoft as a company is starting to come into serious question.
In the mid-90's, Microsoft began forcasting that the modern incarnation of the hard-drive-based PC was outdated, and would be supplanted by that of web-based computers as early as the year 2000.  Accompanying that prediction was the forcast that Microsoft's .NET Architecture would be the vehicle that powers this fundamental paradigm shift, and that the .NET Architecture wouldn't be riddled with bugs and inefficiencies.  Much like Bill Gates' statement in '94 that the internet was "just a fad", it appears that their predictions have once again turned up wrong across the board.  However, despite Microsoft's perpetual ineptitude at anticipating what the future holds for computing, it appears that they may have been right after all regarding the power of the web-based computer...
As Bell learned the hard way, It's almost impossible to predict consumer patterns, and even more difficult to influence them.  This is evidenced by the simple fact that Bell has had the elusive Video Phone available to customers since the mid-70's.  However, due to a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which being high cost, privacy issues, and general reluctance to the concept, the video phone never got off the ground.  With that in mind, it is very difficult to say with any great deal of certainty that the web-based computer will be the de facto standard at any point in the future, so let's just assume it will be and see what sorts of things could happen in its wake.

The Windows XP -> Windows Vista adoption is looking like it will be slower than any transition Microsoft has ever had to endure.  Now, imagine there is a competing device, let's say, a Google device running a Google browser (check out who owns - that's right, Google).  This could spell even further reductions in adoption rates, and thus enormous losses for Microsoft.  Couple that with world-wide adoption of open-office document standards, which is already occurring and continuing to grow, even through the United States, at the behest of Microsoft, and you have a recipe for serious losses in Microsoft's two biggest markets - Operating System sales, and Productivity Suite sales.  This Google device probably uses AJAX, the programming model Google made famous with its Gmail implementation, which will no doubt lead to a mass exodus away from Microsoft-Based programming software, including Visual Studio, and the .Net architectures. What goes along with that is a move away from Microsoft-based servers as well.  In a few words, Microsoft will be brought to its knees.
The idea of a web-based computer is precisely this:  Imagine walking down the street, using the glove sensor that functions as a keyboard and mouse to interface with your mp3player-sized PDA.  You're twitching your finger while walking down the street, typing up a document and playing music, wearing the special glasses that show you the desktop.  These glasses have a retinal scanner in them that beams a high-resolution low-power display directly onto you eye, giving you enormous amounts of information while using very little energy.  Sound crazy?  Well it's not.  In fact, every piece of technology mentioned above is available to consumers right now, they're just a little expensive to be main-stream, but that may change.
The idea that really makes this thing take off is what's running on that desktop.  The idea of the web-based computer is one where the browser is the vehicle through which all computer functions are performed.  This is where Google's brain-child, AJAX, comes into play.  The idea is that you have a web server running in the background of your browser, and THAT is what coordinates communication with the outside world.  The browser itself never really looks anywhere other than locally.  In the event that the Internet connection your device is using goes down, you would sill be able to keep working on your web-based word processor, because it was already downloaded into your local web server and is running from there.  Thus, in the absence of a connection to the Internet, the local web server would just store the modifications to your documents locally, until it is able to communicate with the central server again, at which point it would synchronize the data.  All this would have happened without the user having any idea that anything out of the ordinary had happened.  Because of this architecture, local storage will still be important to the modern Web-based computer, but not in the amounts we're accustomed to.  We'll probably only use flash memory like a digital camera, which will help keep energy consumption down.  
There's still a lot of hurdles with this web-based computing model, but one way Google seems to be handling them is by continually expanding their seemingly endless array of free services, bringing more and more of typical PC applications into the web browser.  The implementation of Google messaging service Gtalk as a side-bar within their gmail interface was nothing short of mind-boggling.  With this in mind, it is very easy for foresee a version of openoffice that is a simple web service like gmail, probably tied to your gmail account.  Furthermore, Google just started a service offering personal web space, which would certainly tie in very nicely with the idea of most of your data being stored in a central location, particularly if you're doing word processing in such a way.  I'm already using the compose area of my Gmail account as my primary word processor (including the writing of this editorial), so for my purposes, this function already exists, only its under the guise of an email composer at the moment.  A free web-based productivity service will more than likely put the nail in the coffin for Microsoft Office, as the world switches to universal adoption of open document formats.
Ultimately, all of this is what's necessary in the switch to a world where seamless asynchronous web-based computing is the pervasive type of human-digital interface.  The future looks grand from where I'm looking, how about you?
Last Updated ( Saturday, 25 February 2006 )
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