Much of computing will no longer be done on personal computers in homes and offices, but in the “cloud”: huge data centres housing vast storage systems and hundreds of thousands of servers, the powerful machines that dish up data over the internet. Web-based e-mail, social networking and online games are all examples of what are increasingly called cloud services, and are accessible through browsers, smart-phones or other “client” devices. Because so many services can be downloaded or are available online, Windows 7 is Microsoft’s first operating system to come with fewer features.
Other products, some being launched this autumn with less fanfare than Windows 7, represent Microsoft’s future. Last month the company opened two data centres that between them will contain more than half a million servers. This month it released a new version of Windows for smart-phones. And next month it will launch Azure, a platform for developers on which they can write and run cloud services.
The rise of cloud computing is not just shifting Microsoft’s centre of gravity. It is changing the nature of competition within the computer industry.