After ridiculing the concept at every turn has Microsoft finally decided to get down to working up the cloud-oriented version of Windows many of its users would undoubtedly be interested in? A few weeks ago reports of ‘Explorer with Bing’ sounded like a hobby for a few programmers in a back room at Redmond, but it is starting to look as if there’s more to it than that.
Commentators have focused on rumours of Windows Cloud by a professional leaker with form in this area but the real giveaway was a small and mostly ignored event that happened in the Google Chrome Web app store two weeks ago when to everyone’s surprise Microsoft suddenly started offering a series of Office connector apps for the Chromebook.
You heard that correctly; Microsoft has decided to make it easier for users of Google’s Chromebook (the same platform only weeks ago trashed by the firm in a series of US TV ads) to connect to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote online, mirroring a recent Android app that does the same job. There’s not much to these connectors in that they simply launch a connection to the respective online tabs on the Office Live website (this can be achieved manually with more effort) but from such a simple facility we learn a lot about the changing attitudes inside the world’s biggest software house.
It’s an inspired strategy because it re-connects the growing band of Chromebook users back to Office, the future of which, Microsoft realises, lies in the cloud. It’s also a calculated ploy because it gives Microsoft a way of monitoring how many Chromebook users are out there and how they use its cloud-based apps. With no cloud Windows of its own, this is good intelligence for a future offering.
It is a strong certainty that Microsoft is working on a cloud version of Windows and logically this will be free of charge for OEMs because that model is the only way to make a cloud operating system competitive on modestly-priced devices. But if Windows Cloud is real and Microsoft wants to draw people to its online apps, might it still be slightly reticent about the idea?
That could be a feature of internal politics - cloud thinker Nadella is fairly new to the helm - or perhaps the firm is nervous about undercutting its important Office 365 revenue source; if too many consumers get a taste for simple versions of word processors and spreadsheets, some might decide not to subscribe to more featured paid versions.
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