Microsoft's chief executive yesterday said the company's long-held vision of 'software-plus-services', in which more of its software would reside on the Internet and be delivered via broadband, would begin to take shape later this year.
Steve Ballmer reiterated that Microsoft's transition to a software-plus-services business model would take time and seemed to suggest it would be five to seven years before it came to fruition. But he said the company would "have a lot of news and things we will be talking about and unveiling for the first time in this area this year," during his keynote speech at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Denver, Colorado. "I wanted you to have a sort of a sense of where we are going and what the roadmap will really look like."
In broad strokes, that vision is to build a set of services for servers, clients and mobile devices in the Internet cloud, with a new model of computation and user interface. Ballmer seemed to suggest the first of these services would launch, in some form, later this year.
Underpinning these services would be a 'cloud platform', which is the Windows Live Core architecture the company is working on.
"We are in the process today of building out a service platform in the cloud," Ballmer said. "We are building out a service-based infrastructure, not server by server but a new management model, a new device model, new storage, networking, computational model from the get-go.
"The programming model remains .Net and Windows, which is great, but we have designed these things from the get-go to take advantage of modern technologies that allow for virtualisation, scale-out, management and the like. And we are going to have a lot more to talk to you about in this arena in the next 12 months."
Essentially, Live Core would be an online version of Windows for servers, clients or mobile devices. Online collaboration and networking tools would help unite these services, Ballmer said. And users would be able to access content anywhere and anytime from any type of device, ranging from a mobile phone to a TV.
Users also can expect desktop services that would offer a rich user interface, as well as offline access to key applications.
Enterprises can expect online IT services, which would give them the ability the control, manage and enforce corporate policies, notably security, Ballmer said.
The goal is to give users "the ability to bring things together and integrate them and store them and manage them and link them together in unique and arbitrary ways," he said.
He dismissed the notion that computing would go to all thin clients and all HTML. "It is truly nonsense to think the world is going to give up the benefits of these rich clients, the control, the speed, the offline characteristics," he said. "Services will bring yet another element to the equation."
He said services will move toward being online rather than being provisionally managed in huge server farms. "This is a long-term migration," he said.
He repeatedly stressed that this was a long-term project. Indeed the company has long been touting such a vision. "We will not take steps backward," he said yesterday. "This is an ambitious project, but for us it is very important."
He was leery of characterising Microsoft's software-plus-services vision as software-as-services or web 2.0, saying the latter had connotations that were 'not right'. The shorthand definition of software-plus-services was "user interface and computational changes", he said. Of course, many of Microsoft's planned services would likely encroach on existing software-as-services industries, including customer relationship management.
Last year, Microsoft spent about $7bn on R&D; on projects, including its software-plus-services, and is expected to increase the amount this year.