Thursday, December 30, 2010

iCloud enters the Web Productivity Platform race

Check out the "Write" document editing and collaboration portion of this iCloud demo video. "Write" is designed to be compatible with MSWord 97-2003. It's simple editing, but the collaboration is very cool. iCloud calls the technique a shared "drop zone". A colleague is invited via instant messaging to share a drop zone. This results in a split screen displaying two iCloud desktops. The Write document is then dragged and dropped by the author into this drop zone, creating two instances of the document. there are a number of "virtual desktop" variations. I guess the first level of vd would be the Citrix, VMWare, Microsoft class of a virtual OS running within a native OS window. A second level of vd would be that of desktop productivity application suites running on a Web server and delivered to a desktop through a browser with "data" having to be managed, uploaded and synced separately. A third level would be cloud virtual desktops/OS where the local folders of data and documents are synced to a Web server, and full productivity application suites and services are delivered entirely through a Web browser. iCloud is in this third level of cloud based virtual desktop/OS. iCloud applications and services compete with the Google and Zoho productivity platform, Microsoft BPOS, Stoneware WebOS, and Glide OS in that they offer a full suite of alternative cloud based applications and services similar to the legacy Windows desktop productivity suite of integrated applications and services. iCloud also competes with cloud based storage services such as DropBox and Box.net. Like Box.net, iCloud offers an easy to use right-click method for uploading, syncing and sharing any local file folder. Where Box.net seems to aim for the Web Document and Content Management market sector, iCloud clearly targets this emerging concept of a cloud based desktop. One last point of interest concerning iCloud is the API and global inclusiveness demonstrated by the developer community behind iCloud. The basic challenge facing the Web cloud-computing model is that of provisioning a Web productivity platform with the internal messaging and data connections that applications ans services need to exchange information. The legacy Windows desktop productivity environment featured internal technologies like copy/paste, DDE, OLE, ODBC, MAPI, ActiveX and now the .NET-WPF generation of Silverlight controls. A Web Productivity Platform initiative has to provisions for a similar internal messaging and connectivity if it's to be an effective replacement for the aging Windows productivity environment anchored by MSOffice. It's often been said that the name of the game in Silicon Valley has always been "platform". As SalesForce.com's CEO Marc Benioff pointed out in a Q&A with Tim Anderson, there comes a point in time when customers of a platform vendor start writing their business processes to that system. When this happens, they are committing to that platform for the long haul. It's one thing to move data and documents, and another to move a business process bound to platform specific applications and internal messaging services.

In fact, this is the lesson of Massachusetts. It wasn't converting the MSOffice binary documents that stopped ODF. The problem is Reuter's Rule; conversion breaks documents. And it does so in two important ways; fidelity and internal process logic.
Years of Windows desktop productivity development and the critical day-to-day use of business processes based on client/server compound documents, forms and reports established MSOffice as the anchor of many a workgroup environment. These compound documents are the fuel of local windows desktop productivity bound business systems. Convert the compound documents, and you break the business process.
If conversion fidelity had been the only issue, ODF would have easily succeeded! But as Massachusetts discovered, breaking a business process is very disruptive and costly. No matter how sincere and willing a workforce, if they can't get their work done any kind of transition to a newer, faster, cheaper, better system will fail.
iCloud is clearly worth watching. Stoneware would be my choice as the Web Productivity leader primarily because of their attention to the transition phase of moving business processes and systems from the Windows desktop to the Web. They have really given some serious thought to easing the disruptive cost entailed.
Google of course has some clear advantages. Like gMail, gVoice, gDocs, gMaps and a scalable cloud-computing expertise and infrastructure to die for. They have loosely integrated applications and services that hopefully will come together some day. Native Client "Web" conversion of legacy C and C++ code, and Chrome OS are truly exciting. Most of all though Google has a profit model beyond the reach of anyone else excepting perhaps a Facebook-Microsoft coalition.
There be interesting times ahead of us.
~ge~

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