Windows 7 will build the global IT economy, says IDC/Microsoft, or will the Cloud kill it?

Microsoft has sponsored an IDC report on the economic impact of Windows 7 [pdf]. Among the claims:

  • For every dollar of Microsoft revenue from launch in October 2009 to the end of
    2010 from Windows 7, the ecosystem beyond Microsoft will reap $18.52.
  • 19% of the global IT workforce will be working with Windows 7 by the end of 2010
  • IDC expects that employment related to client operating systems will grow by more
    than 300,000 new jobs or more than 30% of total growth in global IT employment in
    2010 solely because of the launch of Windows 7

There is also a forecast that shows Windows 7 taking the majority of Windows client sales in 2010, and which appears to assume that Windows 8 will not be available before 2014.

Realistic figures, or some kind of fantasy? While I expect Windows 7 to take over rapidly from Vista, and to stimulate demand for PCs and laptops somewhat, I don’t believe this steadily rising graph. Cloud computing, software as a service, and growth in mobile devices, will all exert downward pressure on PC sales – even though some of those devices will still run Microsoft’s OS.

I had a conversation with Ian Osborne at Intellect while researching a supplement on software as a service. He made a good point about the unwillingness of the IT industry to embrace change. Although he thinks the cloud is changing everything, he remarked:

You’re dealing with the social phenomena of people working in ITdepartments and data centres who have invested their careers in learning how to make the other stuff work. You tend to want to cling on.

These look like “cling on” charts to me. It is an excellent point though: if the traditional IT industry is being turned on its head by the cloud, that has implications for the shape of IT employment around the world which I’ve not seen spelt out anywhere.

I don’t know if the 20-1 figure quoted by IDC/Microsoft is correct, but it is a useful reminder of how much IT ecosystem revolves around Microsoft’s platform.

Office 2010 puts SharePoint in the centre

Microsoft has released a semi-public preview of Office 2010 – not a beta, so more than ever subject to change – as announced at its Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans. I’ve been trying it out, and wrote a quick review for The Register.

For the most part this is a refinement of Office 2007 rather than anything new and radical. That’s not a surprise; Microsoft’s boldest ideas (like the Ribbon) tend to survive for at least two versions before being sidelined, and I doubt the market would have responded well to anything disruptive this time around.

Still, there are two things which deserve highlighting. One is 64-bit; this is overdue and most welcome, even though many, probably most users will not notice the difference. For those that do, it really matters.

The other is the web applications. Although the obvious spin on this is that Microsoft is taking on the likes of Google, Zoho and Adobe, it is important not to miss the other angle, which is that SharePoint is now firmly in the centre of Office. The web applications are built on SharePoint, and for the first time you can do your work equipped with nothing more than a browser.

Office Groove is now called SharePoint Workspace and lets you synchronize a SharePoint site to your local PC or laptop.

Presuming this works satisfactorily, it makes SharePoint both more usable and more compelling. I know plenty of small businesses who have looked at SharePoint in Small Business Server but never been able to make sense of it; these new approaches may well make the difference.

A side effect, which I am sure has not gone unnoticed by the folk at Redmond, is that shifting away from SharePoint to OpenOffice is harder then shifting from Office to OpenOffice. Lock-in is alive and well.

Another snag with SharePoint is that it gets very expensive once you start trying to use all its features. However, this is what I was told about licensing the web applications:

The Web apps will be licensed along with the Office client apps, so when a business purchases Office through their volume licensing agreement, they get the license to run Web apps on their own servers.  For customers of Microsoft Online Services (SharePoint and Exchange hosted by Microsoft) customers will be able to subscribe to the Web apps.

It doesn’t sound too bad; and the hosted option is important to note as well. Further, there will be some kind of free option:

400 million Windows Live consumers will have access to Office Web applications at no cost.

One day, Microsoft should start taking stuff out of Office, rather than putting it in. Who would not want a leaner Outlook? Maybe the new web applications built with Silverlight are the beginning of just such a new generation. 

I’ve posted some screenshots and further comments here.

Silverlight 3 is out

Microsoft has released Silverlight 3, though some pieces of the platform are still not done – it seems there is always something to wait for.

There are links to the tools developers and designers need to install here:

Note that Expression Blend and Sketchflow are still at Release Candidate stage.

The .NET RIA services, a server-side piece that simplifies authentication and database operations, is available in a new July 2009 preview:

See this excellent post by Nikhil Kothari for more on RIA Services – it’s from March but does a good job of explaining what they are about.

Using Silverlight 3, or plan to? I’d love to hear from you, along with your views on what is best and what is worst about Microsoft’s RIA efforts.

Google names its Chrome OS partners – including Adobe

Google has posted a Chrome OS FAQ, in which it lists its partners for the new operating system. This features the usual suspects in terms of PC and hardware vendors – though no Dell as yet – but with one interesting addition. Adobe:

The Google Chrome OS team is currently working with a number of technology companies to design and build devices that deliver an extraordinary end user experience. Among others, these companies include Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba.

Adobe is the only pure software company listed. What is the significance? My assumption is that Google intends its Chrome OS to work well with Adobe Flash, needed for compatibility with a zillion web sites out there, and to support multimedia such as the BBC iPlayer. Adobe will also want to get its offline, desktop runtime, called AIR, onto the device; and seeing the company named here makes that even more likely. Put this together with Chrome’s fast JavaScript engine and innovations like O3D – hardware-accelerated graphics for the browser – and my guess is that this will make an excellent platform for Rich Internet Applications and multimedia.

If there is a war between HTML 5 and Flash, Google is more aligned with HTML 5; but that won’t get in the way of excellent Flash support in Chrome OS.

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The UK government and the cloud: to Google or not to Google?

Last month I interviewed the UK Government’s Chief Information Officer John Suffolk for a software-as-a-service supplement that appeared as an insert to the Guardian on July 2nd – unfortunately it is not online at the moment. The question was how the public sector might take advantage of cloud computing.

A few days later, the Times revealed that the conservative party is contemplating a policy which includes storing personal health records with Google or Microsoft. This idea, and the links between the Tories and Google are further examined by John Lettice here.

The Tories are not in government. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by the contradiction between what Suffolk told me, and this new proposal. Suffolk:

What matters to us is first of all, where are the data centres located? What’s the scalability and the security? Do I believe in using somebody else’s cloud, where I don’t know what they’re doing in it? No, I never foresee that if we’re using personal data.

He is talking up the idea of a government cloud built on the public sector network – in other words, an independent implementation.

Although this idea sounds reassuring to those who dislike the idea of handing over our personal data to Google or Microsoft (and I am one such), it lacks the immediate benefit and cost-saving of replacing internal systems with an existing cloud provider.

Why sink all that public money into reinventing what is already available, and possibly ending up with something that works less well?

The themes are familiar. How secure is the cloud? How reliable? Can we trust Google? How much are we willing to pay, for the greater freedom and control that comes from owning our own systems?

It is not implausible that a year from now the UK may have both a Tory government and a desperate need to curb public spending. In the end this is going to be an economic as well as an ideological argument; and I suspect it will be increasingly difficult to be high-minded about putting personal data on “somebody else’s cloud”.

Is Mono safe to use?

Microsoft has promised not to sue those who develop implementations of its C# language and Common Language Infrastructure – the heart of .NET.

You might assume that to be good news for Mono, the open source implementation of .NET sponsored by Novell; and I suppose it is, though not in any major way.

The key point here is that Microsoft’s .NET platform goes well beyond what is covered by the promise. ASP.NET, Windows Forms, ADO.NET, Windows Presentation Foundation, Silverlight: all this falls outside. The promise covers only what is standardised by ECMA.

Mono leader Miguel de Icaza is clear about the differences in his post, and says Mono will be split into safe and – presumably – unsafe parts:

In the next few months we will be working towards splitting the jumbo Mono source code that includes ECMA + A lot more into two separate source code distributions. One will be ECMA, the other will contain our implementation of ASP.NET, ADO.NET, Winforms and others.

A good thing? Well, it could help promote the core of Mono in the open source community, which is wary. Open source champion Richard Stallman recently stirred up debate on the subject by proclaiming C# dangerous, in what has become a somewhat perplexing post:

It is dangerous to depend on C#, so we need to discourage its use. … The problem is not unique to Mono; any free implementation of C# would raise the same issue. The danger is that Microsoft is probably planning to force all free C# implementations underground some day using software patents.

he says (and is unlikely to be comforted by Microsoft’s recent moves), though he adds:

This is not to say that implementing C# is a bad thing. Free C# implementations permit users to run their C# programs on free platforms, which is good. (The GNU Project has an implementation of C# also, called Portable.NET.) Ideally we want to provide free implementations for all languages that programmers have used.

Confusing. Still, it’s a valid and important question. Is Mono safe to use?

I have been asking myself this for many years; and have asked Microsoft about it on a number of occasions with no clear answer. However, to me the breakthrough came when Moonlight was announced, an implementation of Silverlight for Linux for which Microsoft has partnered with Mono. The dual significance is first, that Microsoft is working with Mono; and second, that it shows how Microsoft has realised that overall Mono is more a benefit than a threat to its platform.

Action against Mono now seems less likely than ever. That opinion is not based on legal knowledge, but on the business & PR case.

Nevertheless, there could be limits. Stallman’s recent statement was provoked by discussions over whether Mono should be part of the default Debian install. It is not; but it is rising higher on the list of packages that are likely to be installed sooner rather than later by users, because Mono applications are growing in number.

On the server, Mono’s implementation of ASP.NET is now rather good. I’m using it on for a Silverlight demo. I’ve been impressed by its compatibility with Visual Studio, though I’ve also found it increasing resource usage more than I would like. I’m using what is now an old version though, so I expect this to improve.

The cost savings in using Linux+Mono rather than Windows+ASP.NET are significant, which implies that the potential cost to Microsoft is significant too. It’s only a potential cost, because frankly the official platform is still less risky for a commercial deployment, from a technical rather than legal perspective. Mono is currently more likely to attract free or hobbyist users; but that could change. If Microsoft saw server license sales bleeding away because of Mono, my guess is that there would be rumbles.

What then of de Icaza’s move to separate Mono into safe and unsafe parts? I see the sense of it, but wonder if it could be counter-productive. While Mono is, errm, monolithic, Microsoft cannot take action against the unsafe parts without also blocking the safe parts. After the split, it will be easier for Microsoft to agitate about the pieces of Mono which might (or might not; I’m no lawyer) infringe its rights.

It still strikes me as unlikely that Microsoft would risk full-on legal action against its partner and against what is now a significant part of its platform story. However, I doubt we will get any further comfort from the company, beyond what it has already given.

*updated to acknowledge that Silverlight and WPF are covered by the open spec promise – see links in the comments.

It’s war: Google announces Chrome OS

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks.

says Google. So the gloves are off – not content with targeting Microsoft Exchange and Office with Google Apps, the company is now going for the whole piece, client operating system included.

It’s not as new as all that, of course:

The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel.

says Google’s Sundar Pichai, VP Product Management. According to the release, it intends that developers will write web applications that will run in any “standards-based” browser – though I’m guessing Google will continue to use its Gears extensions which are not part of any W3C standard.

One of the interesting questions is whether Google Chrome OS will stick with these limited goals, or whether it might end up running local applications such as, say, OpenOffice, or a media and DVD player, or games. What about Adobe AIR, will it run on Chrome OS and provide offline capability? My guess, almost certainly yes.

Linux is an excellent choice for a netbook, and it’s been sad to see Windows almost take over there. The reasons seem to be lack of customer acceptance combined with sloppy releases from some OEMs more familiar with Windows. Google won’t be sloppy; but it faces many of the same challenges in winning users. Expect modest initial success, with more interesting implications for the long-term.

Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year.

says Pichai.

Symbian appeals to Traveling Geeks: develop for our platform

I attended a Traveling Geeks event in London last night, a party sponsored mainly by Symbian and NESTA. I returned with a large pile of business cards from folk involved in a diverse range of initiatives. Kate Arkless Gray told me about Save our Sounds, a BBC World Service project to archive and map interesting and endangered sounds from around the world; while Sarah Blow sought to convince me that I don’t just need Twitter, I need Tweetmeme to track what is happening on the world’s most public short message service.

Digitrad wants me to sign up for, which means registering a .tel domain with its service and using it as a public home page, email address and voicemail box. It’s not clear to me what advantage it has over all the other third-parties who want to own my digital identity, except that Digitrad is smaller and therefore less threatening than Google or Facebook. I’m happy with conventional registrars.

From my perspective, Symbian managed to dominate the event with engaging images around the walls and numerous representatives to talk up its mobile platform. The Symbian story is an interesting one. Originally developed by Psion, it was spun off in 1998 into an independent company co-owned by the giants of mobile at the time: Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola and Psion itself. Nokia proceeded to acquire more and more of Symbian, achieving greater control but also – it seemed to me – reducing the chance it once had of becoming an industry standard. Other vendors became wary of depending on an operating system controlled by a competitor. Linux had greater appeal – as seen in both the Palm Pre and Google Android – while Apple did its own thing with OS X on the iPhone, and Microsoft ploughed on with Windows Mobile.

Last year Nokia responded to the pressure by announcing plans to acquire Symbian in its entirety and then to give it to a new Symbian Foundation, an open source, collaborative project along the same lines as Eclipse. Developers can sign up to get the tools for programming Symbian applications in C++, Java, Python, Ruby, Adobe Flash, C# or HTML/JavaScript. I was told that Symbian intends to be even more open than Android. It restores Symbian’s cross-industry potential though there is now more competition.

Should you develop for Symbian? The Symbian Foundation is a great move, but in the App Store era I suspect deployment issues are even more critical than the quality of the OS or its development tools. Developers will go where they can find customers. Apple is reaping the rewards of controlling the entire platform and marginalizing the mobile operators.

Still, as long as Apple is content for the iPhone to be punishingly expensive, it leaves space for others. The appeal of Symbian will depend not only on its success among device manufacturers, but also on how easy it is for users to find, purchase and install applications.

There is also the matter of reliable, fast and affordable internet access, the lack of which has so far spoilt every mobile device I have owned.

Clipboard.Clear … oops

Bob Warfield is upset because he lost some work. He copied some text in Live Writer, deleted it, then opened Word and tried to paste. No go .. clipboard empty.

Frustrating, but is he right to call his post Microsoft: Bad User Experience Is Cultural, on the grounds that Word is designed to clear the clipboard every time it opens?

Here’s a bit more information. First, Word does not do that here. Second, if it weren’t that I do equally silly things I’d suggest that it is always risky to entrust the clipboard with your work without a backup.

That said, I can understand why Word might appear to clear the clipboard on start-up. It could be a bug, or it could be an add-in of some kind. The thing is, it is really easy to clear the clipboard in code. Just call EmptyClipboard and you’re done. There are ways to do it in VBA too, via a DataObject, or in .NET via Clipboard.Clear.

As Warfield’s case shows, clearing the clipboard in code can be deeply user-hostile. Should Windows prevent it? Difficult, because if your application or add-in implements clipboard functionality, it is the correct thing to do when the user selects Cut, Copy or Paste.

Lessons? A warning, I guess, not to use the clipboard for any purpose other than a user-initiated clipboard action – though I guess it can be tempting if you are hacking some sort of inter-process data exchange.

Second, when Windows lets you down it is not necessarily Microsoft culture to blame. There is an argument though … applications that don’t conform to Windows guidelines are a big problem and without them things like User Account Control might not need to exist; and that is Microsoft’s fault in a way, because of the history of Windows, its changing guidelines, and the inability of even Microsoft to stick to them in the past. Maybe Microsoft is partly to blame for the wild culture of third-party Windows apps.

This is a blog entry rather than a comment because Warfield’s blog needs registration to comment, and I am allergic.