Microsoft is known by many as the legacy business and productivity company, but how is Microsoft developing products which will enable the wonderful science fiction future? To begin, science fiction depicts a future where screens are everywhere, they recognize you and any device seems to be ready to go with your content and applications. Right now, this is not the case; devices are very much personalized to individuals but there are some emerging technologies which could change the way we interact with devices.
Today it is possible to borrow a laptop and get access to email, and some content stored in a cloud service. Logging into social networks gives anyone with a browser access to contact information and status updates from the people they are interested in. However a web browser doesn’t give access to apps or programs on desktop computers. Also any files which are not synced to the cloud cannot be accessed.
Microsoft has been developing Azure RemoteApp which enables apps to be virtualized on Azure and accessed via any device. This service could be used to stream legacy applications anywhere over the web to any device. OneDrive has been going through some changes with Windows 10, and some users don’t like how the desktop OneDrive client has regressed to the Window 7 style. One advantage of the old OneDrive desktop client is the ability to access files and documents stored locally on a PC. These files don’t have to be saved to the cloud for users to access them (assuming this setting is enabled) via any web browser on any device. Coupling Azure RemoteApp and the OneDrive desktop client, users could have access to all of their files and applications over the internet.
Communication remains one of the big use of devices, even though the methods and services used to communicate have changed. Sending and receiving messages, images, videos, and files via Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Hangouts, and FaceTime may consume the majority of device’s use. Microsoft has been dragging their feet when it comes to delivering consumers a unified communications solution, but services and applications like Lync and Skype seem to be laying the foundation. Skype has announced plans to deliver real time messaging, audio, and video in browsers without needing plug-ins. Skype could act as the intermediary to enable users to receive SMS/MMS messages and calls from anywhere.
Azure enables apps to be virtualized and OneDrive can act as a personal cloud storage for app data, so Microsoft could allow their users to access any app in the cloud and access their communication data. Microsoft currently virtualizes Linux on Azure so they could offer apps from Android to be hosted in a personal virtual machine which could be accessed via any device. By offering access to apps on competing operating systems Microsoft could use this trick to provide access to high profile apps (SnapChat) to their poorly supported ecosystem without making unauthorized apps (ie: 6snap). This virtualization enables users to be blind to the complexity which surrounds them accessing their apps and connecting with others.
Connecting to a service which has access to a user’s entire digital identity needs to be secure and consistent. Users will not rely on a service to give them access to their world if connecting is inconsistent or insecure. Microsoft can employ their face recognition technology with Kinect to make logging in fast, and combined with two-factor-authentication the login would be secure. The Microsoft Band could be leveraged to provide physical identity in order to make access faster without sacrificing security. Azure has been increasing how much data they encrypt in rest and in transit, and this ensures communication and files cannot be collected or viewed.
The power users reading this article are thinking of all the ways this system wouldn’t work for them, but that may not be the case. Office 2013 introduced a new feature called ‘click-to-run’ which enabled Office to be used on a new PC very quickly. Basically, Office is installed in a way which gets core features useable while the rest of the program installs fully. Microsoft could implement this technology to bring big legacy programs onto computers in a fast and efficient manner. Users could start in a web-app which would transition to a light desktop application, while the users is running the light desktop app the rest of the features are being installed. Finally, the user would end up with a complete desktop program, installing as you work.
Click-to-run could be used on games to bring the content local while enabling users to begin playing the game right way. The cloud also enables saving of games, or files and settings across devices. Xbox One, Windows, and Windows Phone users have been experiencing this already for some time with apps which store data using OneDrive, or 3rd party servers. The seamless experience between devices is wonderful because syncing files, game saves, drivers, settings, and passwords has always been the unglamorous side of technology. Microsoft offering unlimited cloud storage to their Office 365 customers will hopefully encourage more people to back up all of their data online in some form or another.
All of these technologies working together could enable a future which may or may not come to pass, regardless of how much it is built up by science fiction. The ability to walk up to a public terminal and have access to all personal files, communications, and applications has been a dream for many years. Currently cloud storage enables access to files from anywhere provided they have been saved online. Email and social networks enable some access to communications, but there is still work to be done surrounding traditional SMS/MMS and phone calls. Running virtual machines is not new, neither is running them in the cloud. However, using the cloud to virtualize a single application enabling universal compatibility across devices is beginning to take shape. The future may seem far off, but this tech could be right around the corner for all of us.
To be perfectly clear, the future will consist of a wide range of mixed computing methods, ranging from phones to tablets to laptops to massive multi-monitor workstations to the cloud. Microsoft has been building the steps in between these form factors which enable people to continue to access their legacy programs and files while still remaining up to date with their devices. The Surface Pro 3 is a perfect example of new devices bring a breath of fresh air to old desktop programs like Photoshop. The cloud is still a new technology which companies and individuals are still deciding how comfortable they feel keeping their data and livelihood on remote servers. Luckily the cloud is not exclusive and users can save some data to the cloud while keeping some local, and users can do some work through a browser but not all. The future will continue to reinforce the reality that choice is king.