Gates hints about Microsoft's cloud futures on his way out

I've been wading through lots of the "Goodbye Gates" coverage over the past few days. An interview Gates did with former PC Magazine Editor Michael Miller caught my eye -- mostly because of a few interesting new hints it included.

This week, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' last as a full-time Microsoft employee, is being marked by  article after article covering every aspect of Gates' tech legacy.

Not to take anything away from Gates and the significance of the company he started, but after a while, all these "top 10" legacy lists start sounding the same. (As do the bulk of the multiple  "exclusive" interviews with Gates and the other remaining lieutenants at Microsoft.)

I've been wading through lots of the "Goodbye Gates" coverage over the past few days. An interview Gates did with former PC Magazine Editor Michael Miller caught my eye -- mostly because of a few interesting new hints about the future that it included.

Gates emphasized that he still believes the WinFS concept is important and would meet an unsolved need.

"(T)here is a famous quest of mine called integrated storage, where you have not just a file system but more of a very flexible object-type database: things like your contacts, calendars, favorites, your photos, your music—how you rate those things are stored in a much more structured environment. And so they can be navigated easily and move between applications very easily. And that hasn't happened. It will happen as part of the move to cloud storage. We will get this extra storage structure. Say you want to move data between multiple phones, multiple PCs, TV, car. You don't just want to move files, you want to move things that have more structure. So there's integrated storage or unified storage that hasn't happened yet, and that's too bad. You see a little bit of it where Apple and Microsoft are doing string indexes in the background, but it's only a partial step. It doesn't give you the full structure. "

Bits and pieces of WinFS are finding their way into SQL Server and other Microsoft products, but it definitely sounds like Gates is hoping the company he founded will find a way to take the WinFS concept further as it is designing/developing future iterations of Windows.

Meanwhile, speaking of sharing files and other data across devices, we already know that Microsoft is going to unveil more of its Windows Live Mesh vision (along with the accompanying Software Development Kit) at its Professional Developers Conference in late October 2008. But it sounds like Microsoft also is going to unveil new tools and/or a framework for its cloud datacenters at the PDC, too. Gates told Miller:

"(Y)ou have two things moving to the cloud to be clear. You have stuff that could be done on the client, like storage where the master moves up and you just do caching. Then you also have server-based computing that could move into the cloud. Well that's just a different data center, but it may be one that has the scale and pooling. With some of the early efforts, like the Amazon S3 stuff, it still forces you to write the program that understands there are different computers and how things work on that.

"The thing we're doing that Ray Ozzie will talk about later this year at the PDC is how you make it easy to write those programs that are high-scale running in cloud data centers in a way that you really understand what is going on."

My guess as to what this might be? I keep hearing Microsoft is developing some kind of cloud-based application platform that goes beyond SQL Server Data Services (SSDS) and BizTalk Services, code-named "Zurich."  And then there's "Red Dog."

"Red Dog is going to be the lowest layer - the OS - for the cloud, so that means the datacenter....  How you make lots of independent systems more powerful working together and more agile in their computing roles," said a source of mine who requested anonymity.

Anyone else hearing more on Red Dog or Zurich... or other still-unannounced technologies for which Gates has layed the foundation?


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