Dragons in the Cloud: Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft

Dragons in the Cloud: Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft

Summary: Four mighty "Dragons" will claim their territory in the Cloud. Will they interoperate, or will users of these services be imprisoned, and subjected to the terrors of their reign?


Four mighty "Dragons" will claim their territory in the Cloud. Will they interoperate, or will users of these services be imprisoned, and subjected to the terrors of their reign?

Today, at their World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) Apple announced the upcoming availability of iCloud, a new free service that allows users to synchronize media content and other forms of personal data across all of their devices, be it their iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, Macs, or even PCs running iTunes.

With iCloud and iOS 5, Apple has now "cut the cord" with its iTunes dependency on Mac and Windows for its various iOS-based consumer devices and will allow users to synchronize their music collection wirelessly with the iTunes Store over the Internet, as well as activate and update their devices without any other wired connection as well.

Similarly, apps, books, pictures and productivity documents created in iWork on the Mac and in iOS will also be synchronized in iCloud, allowing the service to also double as a personal business continuity mechanism for up to 5GB of data (music purchased on iTunes and 30-day caches of personal photo streams are exempted from this limitation).

Apple has not yet disclosed pricing for additional amounts of personal data beyond 5GB stored in iCloud, or if they will offer it at all.

However, it's certainly possible that improvements to their Time Machine software in OS X Lion or an updated Time Capsule appliance may be able to act as a localized datastore which will enable "Private Clouds" with larger storage pools to run in your home but accessible from everywhere, a la PogoPlug.

Apple's foray into the consumer Cloud follows similar efforts by Google with GMailGoogle Docs, Picasa Web AlbumsGoogle Books and Google Music, the last of of which went into private beta only recently.

The pending release of iCloud as part of iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion also follows the recent introduction of Amazon's Cloud Player and Cloud Drive, which supplants their streaming video service, and multi-platform Kindle bookstore as well as their existing and extremely comprehensive Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Last, and certainly not least, Microsoft has its own Online Services such as Windows Live, Office Web Apps and Zunepass which it will leverage on its existing Windows 7, Windows Phone, XBOX 360 and upcoming Windows 8 desktop, tablet and mobile platforms. Like Amazon with AWS, it also has Windows Azure, its enterprise Cloud service, as well as Office 365 (currently in beta) for small and medium-sized businesses.

Also Read: Windows Live, A Guide for the Perplexed

Each of these fearsome giants, or "Cloud Dragons" are in the process of setting up their fiefdoms, and it is us users who are to belong to each of these Cloud fiefdoms will either willingly or unwillingly become their vassals, feeding the Dragons with our cash when new Apps and content fancies us.

The Dragons must be appeased, or we'll be sacrificing our virgins and giving them the right of prima nocta instead. We've all seen HUMANCENTiPAD, only the Gods know what the Dragons are truly capable of.

The Cloud, as it seems, especially as it pertains to mobile or "Post-PC" platforms of the future, is not optional. It will be an integrated part of our future computing experience, whether we like it or not.

While I for one welcome our new Cloud Dragon overlords, there is one particular issue that concerns me, and that's whether or not that if I swear my oath of fealty to a particular fiefdom today, if I can ever actually leave at some unforeseen future date, and bring my cloud data with me to another Cloud fiefdom, ruled by a different Dragon.

Or more realistically, I may decide I want to actually be a Cloud multi-platformist and run say, a Mac OS X Lion desktop, an Amazon Android Tablet and a Windows 8 Phone. Will the Dragons of these Clouds actually allow data to interoperate and pass between them? Will other services exist that allow me to "Federate" my clouds?

I dunno. The politics of the Cloud Dragons could get quite complicated indeed.

Clearly, I do not expect Apple to be particularly flexible as it pertains to "Appifying" cloud services from Amazon, Google and Microsoft on iOS or even the Mac App Store. That much is a given -- and I expect the App Store developer agreement's "no duplication of OS functionality" clauses to extend to iCloud, selectively, as Apple sees fit to fortify its castle walls.

Of all the Dragons, I expect Apple to protect its fiefdom and the denizens (prisoners *cough*) of its walled gardens with exteme prejudice.

Amazon, Google and Microsoft at least appear that they will continue to employ emerging HTML5 Web standards for their Clouds. So in theory, I should still be able to use their Cloud services on Apple devices, even if it's just in the browser.

Of course, that is assuming that each of these entities isn't going to add extensions to existing web standards that might break someone else's Web services.

And we don't really know if Google is going to be nice to users of Amazon Android tablets with optimized Apps to leverage their Cloud, and vice-versa, or if Microsoft is going to allow Amazon and Google fully optimized Windows 8 Cloud apps to run on their platform.

Everyone is going to have some sort of App Store with all sorts of cockamamie rules, in order to protect their interests. I mean, this is capitalism on these Cloud fiefdoms we're talking about, not a hippie commune.

In terms of Dragons, we're talking more on the order of Glaurung, not Puff.

Certainly, one would expect that if you do own some type of "PC", be it a Mac or a Windows, a Linux or Google-something, you should be able to transfer data. This is provided that you subscribe to the idea that something like our Blade Runner is going to exist in the future and that the majority of PCs aren't going to be displaced with smart devices, that is.

But if Steve Jobs has his way, we will be in the "Post-PC" era. And that means virtually all of our personal data is going to reside in the Cloud, and the Dragons will rule us with an iron fist if we try to escape their fiefdom walls.

Data portability could very well end up being a serious problem, if the average Joe and Jane simply own smartphones and tablets in 2019, and PC's go mostly extinct.

If the majority of us really end up living "Post-PC", and you commit to a vendor like Apple, who's to say you'll be able to easily move your data to Google, Amazon, Microsoft, or someone else for that matter?

I'd really like to know the answer to that question, Mister Dragon.

Are you welcoming or fearing our new Cloud Dragon overlords? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Stingy...

    Given that Microsoft offer the contact, mail, calendar etc. syncing for free, along with 25GB on Skydrive, the 5GB seems a little stingy.

    As a user of MS Live, Google, Yahoo and Apple's MobileMe, I'm not that worried about which will succeed. All 3 sync with Outlook and my Windows Phone7 and iPhone (well Live doesn't, but the others do), so I can just shove the data between the services.

    I've used MobileMe mainly just for the syncing of contacts to my iPhone, the other services don't really bother me one way or the other. I don't know if I will renew, my iMac runs like a snail, my iPhone stutters and I'm getting a much better experience from Microsoft at the moment, so I'm waiting to see what Lion does, for $29 it is a no brainer, to see if it improves performance, before reformatting the drive and installing Linux or Windows on the iMac...
    • I'm sure that 5 gig cap will rise as Apple adds servers in the future


      As Apple needs to see how well this will fly before filling up their entire datacenter.

      Apple is not known (no real track record) for it's cloud infrastructure, so it doesn't make sense to buy and setup server after server if it sits unused.

      If moving forward it look like it's worth teh investment, they'll add servers, and up the data limit.
      Will Pharaoh
      • Besides, the media(musics, pic, books)/apps/mail/etc are excluded from

        @Will Pharaoh: ... the 5 GB count.

        What common person has to fill up these 5 GB? Of Personal videos only -- lets see how Apple will negotiate about videos from iTunes.
      • $1B Farm

        @Will Pharaoh

        Apple invested $1B in that server farm so I believe they know it will be vigorously used. Especially since it will be available for the multiple AppStores, the Apple Store, etc.

        Apple has a good understanding of how their current customers are using their servers today. And they know the growth they have had - even during the Great Recession.

        I believe that Apple will somewhat limit their iCloud for a brief period as they don't know the demands that will be placed on the service on Day One, or even Week One.

        The indicator I'm looking at is when they announce approval for another billion dollar investment.
    • Live doesn't sync to iPhone?


      You know that Microsoft implemented ActiveSync support in Hotmail for mobile clients right? I have 3 Hotmail accounts, and calendars and contacts all sync up on my iPad.
      • RE: Dragons in the Cloud: Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft

        @Joe_Raby I am not knocking anybody that uses Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo or any of the others but have to ask. Why do people (especially tech savoy) use the services in this day and age? Why do people use email addresses from these services when having your own domain is so cheap? It amazes me these days when I get an email from somebody providing a service (either at work or something for home) and they use one of these services. It's even more shocking when I know they have a domain and website for their business but the email comes from Yahoo. I just don't get it and I am FAR from all that technical compared to most here and have used my own domains for email for more than a decade. Again, not knocking anybody for using these services but have always wondered.
    • The 5GBs is in actuality much more...

      @wright_is... Going by what Jobs said that Backup, Music Match, and Photo Stream do not count against that 5GB. So 1,000 Pics stored for up to 30 days, easily 2-3GB there.
      • RE: Dragons in the Cloud: Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft

        @Snooki_smoosh_smoosh Photo Stream yes, but albums no.

        BTW, 2-3GB is around 115 images . 1,000 images would be over 20GB. I'm guessing Photo Stream will castrate the photos, like the current albums on MobileMe do.
      • All I want for Xmas is Peace btwn Apple,MS,Google,Amazon

        @Snooki_smoosh_smoosh and @non-biased.... Let's be very, very prudent and read the fine print from Apple. For about 12 years I've had accounts with both Hotmail and Yahoo (paid accounts when they became useful)... I always cc myself from one to the other, but I am no longer in the Real Estate business. Some old mail is still there and I delete stuff I don't need. I also have the Norton service with 32 GBs of space, only 2gbs left and will buy some more. This 4-way battle between Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft sounds worse than a world-war. I own both App and MSoft (3 Ipods, 1 Ipad plus 2 PC laptops and a 3rd one kept just in case). All I want for Christmas is peace between Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon. Thank you.
    • RE: Dragons in the Cloud: Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft

      @wright_is Comparing Skydrive's 25GB to iCloud's 5GB is fairly deceiving. You could have 30GB of music, app, photo and iBook stored on iCloud before you even start to touch your 5GB limit.
  • RE: Dragons in the Cloud: Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft

    contacts, mail & calendar - exchange active sync between server and droid so job done - don't feel a need at present to also sync this stuff to my mac.

    Windows live mesh for file sync between pc and mac - works fine.

    Music - I have 15G of music on my droid and a lot more in itunes (on mac - mostly ripped from my CDs) - I am struggling to find a need for any music streaming service??

    Photos - would like to have photos auto sync'ed to Mac from droid - might check out some options
    • RE: Dragons in the Cloud: Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft

      to free up space on your device is one reason. the second reason would be to just load the music on one device then you have it across all devices.
      thats all i can think of for now
  • RE: Dragons in the Cloud: Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft

    I don't see why we couldn't move our own data from one cloud to another. If I'm on Amazon and Microsoft offers a better deal you bet I'm going to move all my data over. I don't see them wanting to interoperate though, at least not in the near future. Maybe 2 or 3 years down the road that may change.
  • RE: Dragons in the Cloud: Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft

    You totally forgot about Microsoft Azure. That is way beyond Google and Apple to match and its only competitor out of these 4 is Amazon. You aslo forgot about SkyDrive, MSFT promised that it would make it programmable, and once that happens, you will see a lot of 3rd party apps around it and using its capabilities of Cloud, Storage as a Service.
    Ram U
    • Apple does not offer corporate-level cloud, so Azure will be fine anyway

  • For crying out loud. Talk about ignorance on how markets work

    It's amazing how supposedly intelligent people keep mixing up government and business. The only entity that can FORCE you into giving them money is a government. A business must PERSUADE you to spend money with them. Even when it involves contracts. You have to be PERSUADED to sign that contract.

    Government loves it when you think the greatest threat to your freedom is a business.
    • RE: Dragons in the Cloud: Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft

      @baggins_z What on earth are you talking about. Make sense or stop posting.
    • However, once you sign on the dotted line, you belong to that service

      or company, and moving from their service to a competitor's service will not be free or problem-free. Thus, at the moment of signing, you might not be in the "free-market" per se. That's why people should not make too many App purchases from any one company, and they shouldn't be storing too many or too much of their files on the cloud.
  • Yes this IS capitalism

    And it is capitalism at its finest and you should stop confusing how capitalism works with socialism or communism. Businesses in capitalism work to service the needs and wants of general consumers, and consumers have the FINAL say by voting their CHOICE with their dollars. As opposed to say socialism where the popular vote (not consumer dollars) decides who get to make decisions that you and businesses are "compelled by law" to obey. Apple makes a product that consumers can buy or not buy, supported by a service that consumers can but or not buy. Now the technorati may frown upon Apple's solutions. Too bad! The only votes that counts here is consumers money. Vote with your money and support a solution that fits your needs.

    If Apple, Google or Microsoft makes decisions that run counter to the wants and needs of their paying customers, they will be rewarded appropriately.
    • With socialism, the politically connected decide

      @oncall Well put. But people seem to be happy letting wealthy politicians and corporate lobbyists decide for them!

      Of course, when the stupid regulations harm the economy, the government blames capitalism.