What's Microsoft hiding in its Skybox in the cloud?

What's Microsoft hiding in its Skybox in the cloud?

Summary: If you've been wondering what Microsoft's Software+Services strategy is for its Windows Mobile platform, the answer should become a lot clearer in another couple weeks. Here are some new details on Skybox, the mobile-hub component of its soon-to-be-rolled-out mobile services.


If you've been wondering what Microsoft's Software+Services strategy is for its Windows Mobile platform, the answer should become a lot clearer in another couple weeks.

There have been a few leaks during the past year about Skybox, Skyline and Skymarket -- Microsoft's cloud-based service complements to mobile phones. Microsoft is set to take the wraps off these three services at the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona in mid-February.

I'm not sure about the extent to which the company is planning to share its mobile-services roadmap later this month. But, thanks to some well-connected sources who've asked to remain anonymous, I have some details (on which Microsoft isn't commenting).

The most interesting member of the new Microsoft mobile trio, Skybox, is a hub for user data and information -- a place for storing and accessing photos, contact lists, calendar items and more on Microsoft datacenter servers. If you lose or switch your phone, all your data and contacts are saved in your Skybox. Skybox is based on the Mobicomp synchronization technologies that the Redmondians acquired when they purchased the Portuguese services company Mobicomp in the summer of 2008.

Skybox, version of 1.0  of which will go to beta in mid-February, according to sources, will be free for customers, thanks to an ad-supported Web portal. Users will be able to back-up and restore their data; manage content; and share that content with other users.

By summer 2009, Microsoft is planning to field the 1.5 version of the Skybox service, sources said. The 1.5 release will come in two flavors, if Microsoft sticks to its current plan: a free Skybox standard service and a subscription-based Skybox premium service. The 1.5 service will be available on Windows Mobile 6.1, 6.5 and a select few non-Windows-Mobile phones.

Skybox Version 2.0 is where things get more involved -- and, if Microsoft can meet its goals -- more integrated with other Microsoft properties.

Skybox 2.0 is designed to allow users to manage their mobile devices from the Web; they will be able to change ringtones, backgrounds and manage their mobile apps, music and video all from the cloud, sources said. Version 2.0 will integrate with Skymarket, providing users with a way to buy and store applications and application data on remote servers. Supposedly, with Skybox 2.0, Microsoft also figures out how to integrate Windows Live services and Live Mesh with Skybox.

(Why you'd still need other existing Microsoft services like Live Mesh, SkyDrive and Live Sync -- the service formrly called Windows Live FolderShare -- in addition to Skyline is not clear to me. The whole idea behind Skybox 2.0 is to make your file and data sharing between your PCs, other devices and phones seamless. I thought that was the goal of Live Mesh, too....)

Skybox 2.0 seems to be running on the same schedule as Windows Mobile 7. (More to come on what that schedule is looking like. Stay tuned. Here's what sources are saying, re: the latest WinMobile ship-date schedule.)

Back to the big Sky picture. Skymarket is Microsoft's equivalent to Apple's iphone App Store. The second piece of the puzzle, Skyline, is a way to push your e-mail, contacts and calendar for both work and personal accounts to your mobile device. The Skyline service is aimed primarily at small-business/home-office workers who don't have a way to handle managed e-mail at the moment.

What are your first impressions of Microsoft's Skybox gameplan?

Update (February 6): It looks like Microsoft is going to make the real name for "Skybox" be "My Phone."

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


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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  • Been using Live for a couple months

    I love Live, but its far from mainstream. I hope this will bring WM in the cloud to prime time.

    As of now Live works well, but the WM calendar cannot sync to the Live calendar. How this was overlooked is baffling... However it is still considered beta. Syncing from the cloud on any PC with my phone is a luxury I don't want to give up. Having to sync from the phone to various workstations is tedious.

    I'm sure Google's G1 was some motivation to step up the game, as well. They also offer to keep everything in the cloud for free.

    I hope Microsoft offers a free update from 6.1 to 6.5 to keep up with this.
    • Phone upgrades

      are the choice of the manufacturer not MS unfortunately. However if you have a newer device, Mobile 6.1 or 6.1 Pro, chances are a few months after release 6.5 will be available for it.
  • RE: What?s Microsoft hiding in its Skybox in the cloud?

    "The whole idea behind Skybox 2.0 is to make your file and data sharing between your PCs, other devices and phones seamless. I thought that was the goal of Live Mesh, too?.)"

    You're making the same mistake that many do about Live Mesh, it is inherently a platform (i.e. a syncronisation platform), not a product. It wouldn't surprise me if Skybox is being built as an application that runs on top of that platform. I hope that's the case.

    • Ahhhh...

      you're absolutely right. Mesh is the sync platform, apps will be built on top of it. Now that makes far more sense. Gracias.
  • RE: What???s Microsoft hiding in its Skybox in the cloud?

    i use a hosted exchange, how is this a different product. I don't get it
    • re: hosted exchange

      What a dumb question! Its for people that don't have their email hosted on Exchange.
    • exchange

      Hi... I should have been clearer.

      The push mail part seems aimed at both Exchange and other non-MS mail options, too (like Gmail). The idea seems to be a unified inbox with your personal and work mail -- both offerings from Microsoft and from its competitors.

      That's what I'm hearing... for now. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
  • Conflicker worm not an option a feature!

  • As long as it's not written in crayon.

    That was nice of Microsoft to tell us about all their nifty plans. I have some super secret sources too. Here's what they have to say.

    Skybox 3.0 To be released Summer 2012 is an anti-gravity hoverboard.

    Skywriter 1.0 An old guy in a Stearman. You control the airplane with your mouse (works with IE only).

    Skyjacker 1.0 Not really an application as much as a shock when Microsoft tells you to pay them $49.99 a month or you'll never see your data again.

    Skyraker An internal device to collect the proceeds from Skyjacker.

    Skyice (code name blueice) This has something to do with Google, but that's all I know.

    Skyhike: What you'll be told to take when Microsoft's servers go down for half a day and you're bleeding customers as a result.

    Hey, this looks good. The Sky's the limit!
  • livemesh?

    I thought this was the goal of live mesh which is pretty good for the time being and could be improved with the addition of skydrive which is by itself useless as we have to use third party app to mount the space as a network drive or upload files form the webportal, both ways aren't usefull, livemesh solved that issue but there still isn't mail/calendar sync.

    microsoft really should concentrate all their effort on their main synchronization product which are for me skydrive and live mesh.
  • More WonderWare promises from Microsoft...

    You Microsoft fans are like the dog watching the darting tennis ball... you're gonna wrench your neck trying to keep up...

    and with Microsoft "throws" that ball, you can bet they will keep it and sit on it, until you come loping back wondering what happened.
    • You're looking extremely green with envy...

      but its not a problem a regular bath can't solve...
  • I'll tell you...

    They want everyone using everything they make to pay a fee for use, just like the days of the mainframes when people paided for time on the computer. Like paying a cable bill every month? Get used to it if you "own" (ha, ha, ha[EULA]) Microsoft products, they want it all that way; from Word to the OS.

    Get Linux
    • If I get Linux

      will I get to use cool terms like "paided"? I guess if I'm using Linux I'm probably not getting paided much since I have enough free time to track down community-based solutions to my problems rather than use some off-the-shelf common software package. But hey, if your time is so worthless knock yourself out. Hurry though, your mom is going to be calling downstairs soon that dinner is ready.

      This has nothing to do with the article, although neither does your comment. Let me see a Linux-based Mesh sub please.
  • Mesh overlap

    I sure hope this stuff is built on top of Live Mesh /
    Live Framework or at the very least synchronizes with
    it, because there is a TON of overlap.

    Live Mesh has a client for Windows Mobile that can
    synchronize files, pictures, etc. The roadmap
    includes synchronization of apps and calendars. Mail
    is another likely candidate.

    The major missing piece in the Mesh story is an app
    store. I sure hope Skymarket is it, otherwise Mesh is
    going to be at a real disadvantage.
    • I agree

      I can't see Skybox replacing Mesh on the desktop. All of it rolled into one service would be much better.
  • Looks like merging applications in one big MS Cloud

    Looks like merging applications in one big MS Cloud
  • RE: What&Atilde;&cent;s Microsoft hiding in its Skybox in the cloud?

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