It takes a lot of syncing to build a Microsoft personal cloud

It takes a lot of syncing to build a Microsoft personal cloud

Summary: What's this 'personal cloud' that Microsoft execs are promising will be all the rage later this year? Here's my attempt to figure out whether it's just rhetoric, rather than reality.


When Microsoft officials talk about syncing devices and services, they can be referring to any number of different Microsoft sync technologies. There's ActiveSync, Windows Live Sync, Sync Framework, Windows Sync, the synchronization provided via the Zune PC software client... and lots more.

Several of these sync technologies are essential to realizing what Microsoft marketing execs (and Forrester Research analysts) have started referring to as the "personal cloud." Microsoft execs talked up the potential of the personal cloud earlier this summer at both the Worldwide Partner Conference and the Microsoft Financial Analyst Meeting (FAM).

Corporate Vice President of Windows Consumer Marketing Brad Brooks told Wall Street analysts and press they'd be hearing and seeing more from Microsoft about the personal cloud later this year. He said that Microsoft is one of four tech companies (with the others being Apple, Google and Facebook) who are set to deliver "multiple components of the emerging Personal Cloud user experience."

"Speaking of cloud and Windows, we have a unique point of view on the cloud for consumers, and we call it the PC. Only in this case we call it the personal cloud," Brooks told FAM attendees in late July. "And the personal cloud, well, it's going to connect all the things that are important to you and make them available and ready for you to use wherever you're at, whenever you need it."

Windows Live Essentials -- a suite consisting of a number of Microsoft's Windows Live services, and which just this week got a "beta refresh" -- is one element of Microsoft's personal cloud experience. Brooks also included Windows 7, Bing, Xbox Live, Zune, Windows Phone 7 and "client virtualization technologies that so far are aimed mostly at IT managers"

Microsoft's personal cloud experience works like this: Your Windows (preferably Windows 7) PC is the hub. From there, you can connect and sync various devices, like your phone, your gaming console, etc. In some cases, you'll be able to sync directly from the devices to the cloud. But the main goal, from Microsoft's standpoint, is to keep the PC at the center of a user's syncing existence.

This fall/winter -- when Microsoft rolls out the final version of its Windows Live Essentials 2011 bundle and its phone partners start selling Windows Phone 7 devices -- Microsoft execs will be touting how these products are enhanced by the personal cloud. That sounds a lot fancier than saying Windows 7/Vista and Windows Phone 7 users will be able to install and run the new Windows Live Messenger, Mail, Family Safety parental controls and Live Sync (which is what they really mean).

Speaking of Live Sync, Microsoft officials have conceded (and beta testers realize) that the coming version allows users to sync their Windows PCs and Macs. But it doesn't support phones -- not even Windows Phones. And the Zune PC client (codenamed "Dorado"), which will enable the personal cloud synchronization between Windows PCs and Windows Phone 7 devices is dedicated to syncing digital media content, not things like contacts or e-mail, as Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott (who is writing a Windows Phone 7 book) noted in a recent blog post.

Microsoft execs tend to gloss over this reality in their demos. What's enabling them to seamlessly sync their photos on their Windows Phone 7s with their Windows 7 PCs? It's not the coming version of Windows Live Sync. And I don't think it's the Zune sync, either.

Maybe it's Windows Sync? That seemed to be what Brooks was telling FAM attendees last month, according to the transcript of his remarks (unless Brooks was talking about Windows Live Sync, which I'm doubting, since the coming 2011 Essentials version doesn't support phones). Brooks said:

“Well, now with the new Windows Sync feature, I can choose one folder or choose all my folders on a PC, and choose to share them and they automatically sync up in the background whenever I'm connected to the Internet.  So, that means all my files and all my content across all these devices always keep in sync.”

Windows Sync is a feature built into Windows 7. According to Microsoft, "(u)sing Windows Sync, developers can write synchronization providers that keep data stores such as contacts, calendars, tasks, and notes on a computer or on a network synchronized with corresponding data stores in personal information managers (PIMs) and smart phones that support synchronization."

After clicking around for a while on some of the Windows Sync links, I realized Windows Sync builds on Microsoft's Sync Framework. What's the Sync Framework? Microsoft's description:

"Sync Framework a comprehensive synchronization platform enabling collaboration and offline for applications, services and devices. Developers can build synchronization ecosystems that integrate any application, any data from any store using any protocol over any network. Sync Framework features technologies and tools that enable roaming, sharing, and taking data offline."

(By the way, Microsoft just rolled out this week Version 2.1 of the Sync Framework, which adds SQL Azure synchronization as an option.)

I tried to get more clarity from company execs about Microsoft's consumer sync strategy but had little luck, as a result of many Softies being on vacation (and the fact that Microsoft is still, no doubt, ironing out the details of its fall rollouts.)

Does any of this under-the-covers stuff really matter? I realize Microsoft (hopefully) will isolate consumers from sync programming interfaces and sync providers, but I'm wondering how seamless -- and complete -- Microsoft's personal cloud actually will be. "Version 1" of this personal cloud experience seems like it will be neither. Maybe that's OK for a "V1."  I guess we'll see soon....

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Software, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: It takes a lot of syncing to build a Microsoft personal cloud

    Thanks for the informative review of Microsoft's (very) convoluted sync strategy.<br> <br>As far as the "Personal Cloud" marketing speak goes, I think it is way too techy for the consumer market. People just expect things to work together. If the products do then they meet minimum requirements if they don't then the products fail. <br> <br>Further, with Microsoft's "personal cloud" I believe we can call a peak on the Gartner hype cycle for cloud computing.
  • RE: It takes a lot of syncing to build a Microsoft personal cloud

    Like "Grid computing", "Mainframe computing", "Autonomic computing", etc. "Cloud" is at it's core just another buzz word picked up by marketing people that don't understand the concept. Yes, cloud computing will happen (it is happening now). But it will not be the cash cow salvation that Microsoft makes it out to be, it is just another way to push hardware further. It will be "One more thing" in a long line of things and when finally realized, will probably be called something else entirely that sounds fresher and gives a slight definition upgrade to warrant new buzz for the consumer. What MS is really selling here is a proprietary and expensive multi-server solution that will tie all devices into different products that have no consistency beyond loose MS interoperability. It will take a company like Google or Oracle to do it right.
  • RE: It takes a lot of syncing to build a Microsoft personal cloud

    It's also interesting that the Sync Framework is what powers FeedSync, which is what Live Mesh uses. Mesh is, of course, the base of the new Windows Live Sync Wave 4.
    angarita calvo
  • RE: It takes a lot of syncing to build a Microsoft personal cloud

    I guess I have to wonder about the "three screens" strategy when one of those screens must be a Windows PC as compared to Google's "all screens, and start where you want." strategy. PC-free mobility is also a selling point for Android when compared with Apple's iOS.
    • RE: It takes a lot of syncing to build a Microsoft personal cloud

      @DannyO_0x98 Hmm gee, really? I can't operate in the cloud with Google as long as I have an iPad?

      Think again.
      • RE: It takes a lot of syncing to build a Microsoft personal cloud

        @cyberslammer - What DannyO meant was that with an iPad for syncing, you MUST have a PC (as in personal computer, be it Windows or a Mac) and it MUST be running iTunes and it MUST be connected by a cable.

        Android does over the air updates and syncing, no PC or cables required.
      • RE: It takes a lot of syncing to build a Microsoft personal cloud

        @cyberslammer Really? That's folder app that I have with my iPad that I use to move files between it and my computer doesn't require me to sync with iTunes...hmm..maybe people should do a little more research and actually USE the product before they draw a conclusion.
    • Google's concept is terrible

      @DannyO_0x98,<br><br>All your personal data gets strewn all over the Internet, and Google knows more about you than your doctor and your family. Under MS' scheme, you can confine your data to be distributed to only your (and maybe others you specify) devices.
      P. Douglas
      • RE: It takes a lot of syncing to build a Microsoft personal cloud

        @P. Douglas

        By the same token, why don't you run an Intel 8088 computer on MS DOS in a secure/locked room without any network or modem connection, work with your spreadsheets and document using Lotus 1-2-3 and WordStar, and stored your files on 5.25" diskettes?
  • One acronym needed - "WHS"

    There is only one thing I would want to sync my mobile devices, netbooks,laptops,workstations around and that would be my windows home server. Let it sync my LAN devices and have my mobile devices remote into. Then all my data would be available to everything everywhere and be under my personal control. M$ please get your head around this and let the user control their data as they always have.
    JK of Seattle
  • RE: It takes a lot of syncing to build a Microsoft personal cloud

    Mary, after the popularity of cloud computing for enterprises, I?m not surprised to hear about the buzz surrounding the ?personal cloud.? However, cloud computing and virtualization are known to cause virtual sprawl, so how will users deal with this in the personal cloud?
    TuneUp Utilities