Microsoft, the anti-Google?

Microsoft gradually sheds its reputation as a proprietary local software provider, reaches out to cloud and open source.

Microsoft, the anti-Google?

That's one of the subtitles attached to Cade Metz's latest analysis of Microsoft's cloud strategy in Wired.  I like that description, because it represents an Interesting take on the software giant's future positioning in this wild and crazy market.

The Redmond giant has made a lot of progress in building and offering Windows Azure over the past year, but for some reason can't get its full message heard above the cacophony of noise about cloud.

Microsoft's challenge is this: its bread-and-butter -- and home turf -- is the PC, with localized software. It may be trying to turn its messaging away from that, but perhaps, ultimately, it will turn out to be a long-term strength.

It reminds me of IBM's classic struggle a couple of decades back -- its bread and butter was the mainframe, but its marketing message was that it was anything but. IBM was a software company, middleware company, PC company, UNIX company, etc.  But the money came from the mainframe. As time went on, however, the company recognized that Big Iron was its greatest asset. (And lately has been achieving record sales with its System z box.) Perhaps a lesson for Microsoft as well.

But Microsoft is clearly moving to the cloud, and, according to executives interviewed in the article, isn't afraid to cannibalize its resident PC and server businesses to move customers to the cloud as well.

As Kurt DelBene, head of Microsoft’s Office division, put it: “We’re as serious about the cloud as we are about evolving our businesses.... As engineers, we say: ‘[The cloud is] the way the world is moving....’ If there’s one thing I want to make sure that’s clear, it’s that we feel very deeply in our hearts that [the cloud] is where we’re going.”

Office 365, Microsoft's cloud-based productivity offering with hosted versions of Exchange, Lync and SharePoint, was announced last year. Windows Azure, a service for building and deploying applications hosted at Microsoft data centers, was first announced in October 2008.  Microsoft's cloud offerings are designed to interoperate with local PC and server software.

Satya Nadella, head of Microsoft's Server and Tools division, is also quoted in the article, pointing out that currently, most developers are using Azure for projects based on the .NET framework. However, Azure also supports  Java and PHP-based applications, as well as the open-source Node.js platform.

This is where Microsoft's anti-Google proposition comes into play. Metz writes:

"In this respect, Azure has evolved beyond Google App Engine, a service known for tightly restricting what developers can and can’t do. It not only embraces a wide-range of languages, it handles outside databases and other services. Last week, at a conference in Silicon Valley, 10gen — the startup behind the open source NoSQL database MongoDB — demonstrated the database running on Azure. That’s not something you can do with App Engine."