When he joined Microsoft, Microsoft's chief software architect Ray Ozzie got a chance to take a step back and look at the technology industry.
What he saw was that the PC wasn't the centre of the computing universe any more – but like Nvidia's Jen-Hsun Huang, he told the Future in Review conference this week that he doesn't think it's going away any time soon either - he also had words to say about the cloud, online privacy, HTML 5 and Apple.
"The world that I see panning out is one where individuals don't shift from 'I'm using exclusively this one thing called a PC as a Swiss army knife for everything I do' to using a different Swiss army knife. The beauty of what's going on in devices is you can imagine a device.
"Previously you could imagine software and build it but hardware was very hard and took a long time to build. Now you can imagine end-to-end device services.
"So there's probably a screen in the car that federates with the phone when you bring it into the car. Will we have a device with us that's always on? Yes. We call it a phone but it's a multi-purpose device.
"Will we also carry something of a larger form factor that we can quickly type on? For many of us, the answer is yes." And what will it look like? "The clamshell style of device is a very useful thing and I think it will be with us for ever. I think there is a role for the desktop too…"
Apple and HTML 5
The common theme isn't just that these are online services; it's that they're services that bridge online, PC and often mobile access. That fluidity is key to his vision (and it's why he predicts we'll all have multiple devices).
"We're heading to a world where many devices are more appliance-like; you don't have to think about what you're going to lose if you drop it. If you prefer a different form factor or a different colour you can just buy it and start using it without worrying about how I get my stuff here from there."
While he says he has "tremendous respect" for what Apple is doing he calls it "a very device-focused play and a closed system" and he thinks open systems like HTML 5 will offer more for users and developers.
"It depends on how far you step back and blur your eyes. Everyone has kind of agreed that even though Apple has its API set when you're writing an app, when you step back you're don't find too many people arguing that for client developer HTML ++++, HTML 5, some future HTML that goes further towards storage isn't the way.
"Most people agree that's direction we're headed. But Apple would still rather have you code in different ways for the device and for HTML in the browser." Doesn't that give Google a big advantage?
"Google says HTML is the answer for both the browser and the device and it doesn't really enhance the device story as much." And where does Microsoft stand on the Flash issue? "Adobe has said it will be doing developer tools for that future world," he comments diplomatically.
Office, Docs and better productivity
Ozzie's pet projects at Microsoft include the Azure cloud service and the social computing tools like the Spindex social aggregator, the Outlook Social Connector and Facebook Docs (which all come out of the new Fuse Labs Microsoft site near his home town of Boston).
Office is a good example of that, because it's not just PC software any more. "What Office is, is we're selling productivity. It's not so much the software on one PC; we're selling the notion of productivity.In a world of many devices where my goal is to do productivity, what is therole of the server, of the service, of the mobile, the PC and so on? Each has a very unique role.
"On the PC many people are doing large documents and spreadsheets. It's hard to argue against the use of local memory, local computing and a big screen is the best editing environment you can possibly get. That's why people do interactive games on the PC. You want to take advantage of all that productivity in front of you."
Sharing and location-based services
But that's not enough for documents any more. The PC is a very personal thing but most documents made are for sharing. The internet is about sharing and the browser-based complement to the PC is the most obvious place to share those documents or to co edit them.
"And when you have a mobile phone it can be always on, it can notify you of something, it can notify others of your location…it's got a camera so you can take a photo and add it to the scenario."
So far, he agrees these services are piecemeal rather than seamless and there are still a lot of pieces still needed to make that work. In fact, he suggests the question of privacy is as important as the technology involved.
"Identity and synchronisation and state management and policy management are a collection of services that I think are going to be core. But there are some very tricky things in balancing the federation of that between enterprise and personal or between the different facets of your life.
Privacy and security
"The biggest industry-wide point of controversy right now is how independent of a service that is.There are some very significant privacy issues related to that. At one extreme I think some people would like a service that they can count on but that they know that no one is mining the data in that service for marketing.
"We aren't there yet; the identity systems for enterprise work but they're disconnected from everything else and the consumer services that are out there gaining tractions are increasingly under privacy scrutiny."
Obviously one of those services under scrutiny is Facebook (which Microsoft has an investment in) but he hints at issues for search engines like Google too.
"We as a society have never had to deal with privacy issues at the scale we're dealing with right now. Talking more about search; when you have business models that are fundamentally based on matching intent, on understanding what the user really wants, on understanding the user better than the user understands themselves and matching them with advertisers and making money onthat brokering, it's very difficult to cope with…"
With only a hint of irony, he says "Facebook is doing us all a favour by pushing the edge and causing the conversations to be very broad."
Should Microsoft be moving faster in mobile, in browsers, in the cloud, into this future world? "We're very impatient in the technology industry," Ozzie points out. "We get very enamoured with the next shiny object. Let's get real here. How many years have any of these things actually been out? How many years have we all been using these pocket internet companions?
"It's actually been a relatively small number of years. We haven't even seen the TV get lit up yet as a communication device; we haven't seen all the screens on the wallbeing lit up as devices. Every single one of these is going to get lit up as a similar kind of device."
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