Life in ‘the Cloud’

The next digital revolution is coming, and Microsoft ought to lead the way

I am so excited. It’s coming. Can you feel it? We’re on the cusp!

Imagine a world where you could effortlessly access absolutely anything you needed on the go through ultra-portable, ultra-energy-efficient, web-enabled, always-on devices. But you’re saying: “Wait, can’t I already do that?” Sure, iPhones and the like have the World Wide Web covered when you’re on foot, and laptops with Wi-Fi have been doing a standup job for almost a decade now—when there’s a latte and a place to sit. But the next frontier, and arguably the most important one, is having access to all our own digital material—the essays, presentations, pictures, videos, and songs that are so essential to our digital lives—all the time. And I mean all of it, all the time: no blackouts, no missing files, no dead batteries. It’ll all be at our fingertips whenever we want!

Now maybe in your mind, the prospect doesn’t quite warrant that exclamation point. But just think: Gone will be the days when you realize the essay you emailed yourself (or uploaded to Google Docs) isn’t the most current version. You’ll never have to sit and stare hopelessly at the “Save” or “Save and Replace” dialogue box, wondering if one copy of your presentation has everything that the other one does, or less, or more, or is just different altogether.

In today’s world, it still takes a fair amount of work to be seamlessly connected, integrated, and up-to-date wherever you are and on whatever machine. It certainly isn’t impossible, but it’s neither effortless nor reliable. I’m imagining a world where I start typing a paper in my dorm room on a beautifully big monitor hooked up to an inexpensive-but-powerful desktop that puts today’s costly laptops to shame. A quick “Ctrl-S, Alt-F4” before I run outside, pull out my phone, wrap up the conclusion, and instant message it to my English-concentrating friend while on my way to Lamont. There I take out my two-and-a-half pound tablet-book thing, throw in her edits, and give it all one final read through before printing and running to Sever. Awesome.

The idea of uploading files one-by-one to a service like Google Docs or worse, emailing myself, is laughable in comparison. It is unacceptable that the average user still has to understand the complexities of the so-called “cloud” before streamlining his digital life. By now, computers ought to be doing it for us automagically.

I can think of only one company that’s in a position to rapidly accomplish precisely what I envision. It’s not a name the many hipsters on this campus are going to like: Microsoft.

Windows Live, SkyDrive, Windows, Office, and Office Web Apps—all the services are there already, but what’s left is to seamlessly bring them together.

Office is where you create; Windows is your total user experience (and, let’s be real, already the file manager of choice for everyone, everywhere); SkyDrive is your storage in the cloud; and Windows Live is your digital passport to all of the above.

Microsoft has had the potential to streamline its customers’ digital lives for a while now but hasn’t been doing a very good job. The boys in Redmond need to get it together, and fast. Internet-based operating systems from powerful online-only companies like Google are well on their way. If they secure even a modest foothold before a more connected and user-friendly version of everything Microsoft emerges, the market for individual services will fragment. Uniform adoption of a totally new suite of offerings from a company like Google, while perhaps plausible in wealthy and iconoclastic America, is less so globally. If Microsoft doesn’t step up, the great specter of a costly Internet-standards war will stand between us and worldwide digital integration on a common network that seamlessly connects us with our personal data and with each other.

Karthik R. Kasaraneni ’12, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a chemistry concentrator in Currier House.