I was reviewing yesterday's coverage of the Microsoft Azure platform for cloud computing and trying to decide what to make of it. I was admittedly underwhelmed, but I really didn't think that was appropriate to write, because it is obviously a major piece of engineering, and it is indeed solving a relevant problem.
After thinking about it, I realized why I had the reaction I did. I have an expectation that Microsoft *should* innovate. After all Bill Gates talks much about "innovation". But despite the fact that Microsoft presents itself as an innovator, anyone paying close attention knows this is not true. Microsoft is not an innovator. But the truth is they have an important, and perhaps even more difficult job. Microsoft provides more infrastructure for computing than any other company. And infrastructure just isn't sexy.
Azure is perhaps the perfect example of this. Despite a bit of fawning over it from some people that can't help but fawn over all things Microsoft, the truth is it isn't that exciting. But that does not mean it is not important.
Essentially, what Azure is is a collection of web-based services that make it possible to take applications built with the Microsoft stack and move them to the cloud. This is plumbing. It is foundational. But it is not at all exciting. There is little that comes from this that will create new categories of applications, or that will cause us to think differently about what cloud based applications can offer us. But Azure will let millions of people move what they are doing right now onto the cloud.
For me that is not exciting. But that says more about me than it does about the importance of their work. Because for all those people developing applications that want an easy way to get their apps into the cloud, Azure is a godsend.
This brings me back to my core point. Microsoft is not in the business of showing us how to do new things. They are in the business of providing broad platforms for us to do things. These are platforms that can make us feel, by virtue of familiarity, safe and comfortable. And they are platforms that, if you are part of the Microsoft "Visual" religion, are very easy to adopt.
Comparing Microsoft to Apple, they are in very different businesses. Microsoft is about broad ubiquitous platforms, and Apple is about limited but perfected platforms. That's not to say that Apple ever achieves perfection. But Apple is more focused on experience and is wholly uninterested in breadth. Microsoft must, by virtue of its broad customer base, always sacrifice innovation and experience, in favor of bringing everybody along for the ride.
And so Azure, as a platform for bringing everybody along, will be a smashing success. But as a paradigm shifting platform for computing, not so much. As I see it that is a reasonable, even needed trade-off.