While Google and Apple are getting a lot of press these days about their respective cloud services initiatives, Microsoft of course has its own cloud solutions, some of which are surprisingly low profile despite their usefulness. One such service is SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage solution, which has undergone a number of important improvements in recent months. But today, the company announced plans to address users' changing needs and, I think, offer something that is more compelling.
"As we look to the future and designing a personal cloud storage service for billions of people, it's important to reflect both on what's going on in the industry and the problems people are having with today’s approaches to the cloud," Microsoft group program managers Omar Shahine and Mike Torres write in a blog post about the company's plans for SkyDrive. "We're seeing more demand as people buy and use more types of devices and need to access content across them."
Microsoft sees three categories of cloud storage solutions. These are:
File clouds. Solutions like Dropbox, Windows Live Mesh, and SkyDrive that allow consumers to store documents and other files in the cloud and then access them from various devices.
Device clouds. Solutions like iCloud that exist to access centralized content and settings from multiple devices.
App clouds. Productivity (Google Docs and Evernote) and entertainment (Netflix, Pandora, and Spotify) services that contain content that is surfaced by apps on devices.
The company also identifies categories of customers and the unique issues that each audience faces. Shahine and Torres note that these customer types today are considered power users and thus form the basis for tomorrow's mainstream users. These are:
College students. They use Microsoft Office on a PC or Mac but multiple tools (email, file clouds, and app clouds) to share and collaborate with others. "Over 70% of Dropbox users also use Google Docs," Microsoft notes.
Gadget fans. They own at least three devices--including smartphones, PCs, and tablets--and want to easily access cloud-based content across all of them. According to Microsoft, device cloud solutions like iCloud are useful, yes, but also a problematic since "less than 10% of these people have devices all running the same operating system family." Ah, the magic of lock-in.
Photo enthusiasts. They have hundreds of gigabytes of photos stored on their PCs and can quickly hit the limits of free cloud storage solutions, so they need to pay for online storage.
While the details are annoyingly vague, Microsoft seems to want to push SkyDrive down a path in which it can address all of these user needs and, presumably, provide the functionality of each cloud storage category. What follows is a manifesto, of sorts, of intent, which can be boiled down to this: "Customers will choose the cloud that most seamlessly connects today's files with tomorrow's modern device and app experiences."
Will SkyDrive be that cloud?
Microsoft says it will be simple and secure, offer straightforward and flexible storage limits, and work across any device. It will cloud-enable the entire PC, work with key apps and services to let you organize, collaborate, and share in new ways, and connect people, content, and devices at scale. These are lofty goals. But again, no details are provided.
"Over the years, we have built products that have been too complex," Shahine and Torres admit. "We know have a ways to go to deliver a cloud that seamlessly connects today’s files with tomorrow's modern device and app experiences ... It will also take time to bring together people, content, and devices at scale."
That's interesting. But I'm now more interested to see what they intend to do about it. Stay tuned. But read the original blog post first for the full story.