If you’ve watched Microsoft concept videos over the years, you probably know how fond the company is of the idea of "Software Plus Services". Microsoft has always painted it as the ability to preserve local software, while still have it interact with online services in real time. While Microsoft has made quite a few achievements in that area in the past few years, isn’t Apple about to nail it with iCloud?
Take the 4-year-old concept video below as an example. It’s one of the many concepts Microsoft came up with around that time in order to show off "Software Plus Services" paradigms:
Needless to say that no company has managed to achieve that amount of interoperability between different devices, but 4 years later, Apple might be the closest to the finish line. Out of many of the features of iCloud, take "Documents in the Cloud" for example: this feature lets users sync documents across multiple devices on the fly, which looks really close to what’s showcased on Microsoft’s demo video.
Another paradigm often discussed by Microsoft has been the ability to prevent data loss, even if one particular device is damaged, since all files are always one login away, on any device. Apple seems to have achieved that with live backups of critical data such as Apps and Contacts, so you won’t lose everything if your iPad ever gets run over by a bulldozer:
I could go on for a few more hours on how Apple’s services have brought Microsoft’s concepts to reality, but I think you got the point: while Microsoft spent the last 4 years mostly reorganizing, restructuring and rebuilding its Cloud offerings, Apple’s clear focus has helped bring much of Microsoft’s vision to fruition.
I’m in no way suggesting that all of Microsoft’s online endeavors have failed, or that all of Apple’s online products have succeeded (I was the first to write off MobileMe and Ping when they were introduced), but iCloud seems to offer enough advantages for average users to care to sign up for the service and take an honest look at it.
Microsoft currently offers many cloud services, such as Windows Azure, which happens to be a lot more elaborate than iCloud. Despite the huge leverage it provides developers and IT professionals, its benefits haven’t trickled down to customers just yet. Windows Live is the closest Microsoft owns to iCloud, yet it doesn’t allow the amount of interoperability between devices iCloud offers, not even close.
The original Microsoft Live Mesh’s ‘Live Desktop’ concept had a lot of promise, but unfortunately, the groups working on it failed to deliver it on time, which resulted in product becoming uninteresting over time.
Competition in the technology world involves a lot of "catching up", and we’ll surely see that on Microsoft’s side. Leaked builds of Windows 8 show that logging in will now be possible through e-mail addresses, and while we don’t yet know to which extent that will be used to integrate with online services, many expect strong integration. We might even see new Windows Live services before that.
Who knows, maybe in a year iCloud will be nothing more than a link on Apple’s website a few hundred people will visit everyday. Yet, I can’t help but notice the similarities between Apple’s product and Microsoft’s concepts.