Will Cloud Computing Change the Application Landscape

A couple of weeks ago I was speaking at a German cloud and virtualization conference, dominated by attendees working at Internet Service Providers and physical datacenters. There were many sessions about cloud computing, but speakers were also covering topics like datacenter climate control and energy efficiency improvements. It is interesting to note, that there were speakers from Amazon, Google, IBM, and Dell, but not from Microsoft, VMware or Citrix. As a consequence, desktop virtualization and application remoting enjoyed only very limited attention at this event.

But still, there were some interesting statements a majority of speakers and attendees agreed to.

  1. There is a massive influence from Internet communities and social networks when looking at future business application concepts.
  2. There are successful examples for business apps delivered through cloud services, such as Salesforce.
  3. Consumers influence enterprise user, meaning that there is a shift towards user-orientation in contrast to the past notion of technology driving application development. This implies that user demands are getting more important than technical capabilities. More features is not necessarily better anymore.

This all culminated in the generally accepted statement that conventional Windows applications will disappear during the next five years. A majority of speakers and attendees shared the opinion that ALL Windows apps will be replaced by web apps, Google apps, Adobe Flash and Silverlight by the end of this 5-year period. During a panel discussion, I was the only person on stage that didn’t believe this – which was an interesting situation for me. This was a sharp contrast to so many Terminal Server, Citrix and Virtual Desktop events I attended during the last months.

I can tell you quite frankly, this bold statement made by a group of datacenter experts made me think about my own future. Will Microsoft Windows and all UNIX/Linux-based desktop operating systems disappear because they are not required anymore as a common application runtime environment? If all applications are rich web apps (AJAX), Google apps, Flash apps or Silverlight apps, there is no need for remoting conventional Windows applications.

After thinking about this issue for a couple of weeks now, I came to the conclusion that I still don’t believe in this scenario. Now you may say “Sure, he doesn’t believe it, he’s a Microsoft RDS and Citrix XenApp guy. What’d you expect?” But here’s why I’m not a believer in such a drastic move when it comes to apps:

  1. Microsoft conditioned users for so many years with their application interaction model; so many users will not change their behavior in such a short time. Human beings don’t change their behavior if there is not a real benefit – a rule that applies to all humans except IT geeks.
  2. When I look at the number of DOS and 16-bit Windows apps that are still out there since more than a decade, I just don’t believe that several 100,000 32-bit Windows apps will disappear in just 5 years.
  3. People want to watch TV and movies with mobile devices, which require a lot of local computing power. Why should they not use it for apps?
  4. There are so many cool devices with growing local CPU power and storage capacities; there must be something geared at consuming all these local resources – local apps.
  5. Microsoft, VMware and Citrix are investing big amounts of resources and money into remoting protocol enhancements and client hypervisor technology. These investments only provide attractive returns if conventional Windows apps survive.

The thing is, if there are local Windows apps, there’s a market for remoting such Windows apps. At this stage I wonder if Microsoft plans to combine Remote Desktop Services and their Azure platform; I mean beyond remote access to your home PC through Live Mesh. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had the opportunity to just install the Windows apps we happen to have valid licenses for in the cloud? Being able to install a hosted Microsoft Office on Azure would be a perfect completion of Microsoft Online Services including Exchange, SharePoint, Office Communicator and Live Meeting. This is what I would call “Instant Cloud” as all components are available today.

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