While it would seem that Microsoft has fallen off the edge of a cliff when it comes to competing with Apple and Google, Steve Ballmer is still a smart man. He knows what the future entails. He knows that Google (and even Apple) has what Microsoft wants. But, most importantly, he knows that if Microsoft can't compete in cloud computing, the company's future will be grim.
"Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." Take note: it was Steve Jobs — not Steve Ballmer — who said this, and it's clearly obvious who the leader and the follower is in the tech industry right now.
Each company has its strong suits: Apple is the leader in design, Google is the leader in cloud-based services and advertising — the area of technology that Microsoft wants to expand, and Microsoft is the leader in operating systems and productivity products, both of which are important but are not the future.
Mr. Ballmer knows this, and he is more determined than ever to expand Microsoft into the cloud. "I'd say, simply, the cloud fuels Microsoft and Microsoft fuels the cloud," said Mr. Ballmer in a speech about Microsoft's involvement with the cloud.
Well, he certainly takes an arrogant tone with cloud computing, acting as if Microsoft is the leader in cloud-based services. Is he being enthusiastic or ignorant? Who knows. But I guess you can take that tone without much repercussion when you are the CEO of a company like Microsoft.
Regardless, Microsoft has been making strides in this area: they have been developing Bing, Microsoft's search engine; Azure, a development environment in the cloud; Office Web Apps, Microsoft's popular Office applications on the Web; and a slew of products to move them to the cloud.
Sounds like a good start, right? But there is still a long way to go.
Products like Windows and Windows Mobile need to adapt to the future while new products like Azure, Windows Live, and Bing lead the way. They need to work cloud-based features into their products carefully but speedily, familiarizing their existing customers with the cloud while drawing in new customers of the future and lost customers of the past.
The biggest problem, however, is that Microsoft's products are not fully integrated with each other. It's somewhat like taking Flickr and combining it with YouTube. It sounds good in theory, but it would just end up a mess.
The overall experience isn't very user friendly. For example, when I am at Google, all their products are at my fingertips with a mouse click or two. With Microsoft, it's not quite that easy, and that is exactly what they need to achieve — a unified platform that is easily accessible and usable — to make it all work.
Unfortunately, Microsoft has a hard time with quick changes and improvements. For one, it isn't the Microsoft way of doing things, primarily because of corporate relationships. Another reason is that Microsoft has spread itself so thin with working on so many various projects; although this could be repaired, especially when looking at how Google operates. Finally, the company, while being involved on the Internet with MSN and Hotmail, really hasn't made much of an impact on the Internet. Sure, Bing isn't that bad, but is it a Google Search killer? Not even close.
So is it too late for Redmond? Of course it isn't! There is still plenty of time to innovate in the cloud. That said, there still hasn't been much innovation at Microsoft lately, at least those that catch the public's attention. It is time for that to change.
This has to be done. This is the future. Microsoft can't be left behind here.
Mr. Ballmer has made the right decision by directing the company's investments towards cloud computing technologies. It is the right bet to make. In the end, though, it might take awhile before we know if it will have been worth it.