In 1978 Bill Gates and Paul Allen (bottom row, extreme left and right respectively) started Microsoft. Paul Allen left the company many years ago to pursue his own passions, but today is Gates’ last day as a Microsoft full time employee. He will still be Chairman of the Board, but his time will be dedicated to the Gates Foundation, the world’s largest. Many pundits are saying that the world Bill Gates created is over and that a new era of Google dominated “cloud computing” is the shape of the future. I’m not so sure.
The theory behind cloud computing is that I leave everything on a central server and run my life off a thin client (I-phone or Blackberry). In this vision, Google’s massive worldwide data infrastructure gives them competitive advantage over other players. But in the last few months the race for flash memory between Intel and Samsung might have changed this vision. Samsung announced a 256 GB flash memory card. Given that the basic laptop computer comes with 80 GB hard drives, one can see that the cost of memory is entering a Moore’s Law inflection. That would say that a 512 GB card for your cell phone would be available in 18 months and 1 terabyte of storage the size of a thumbnail is not far off.
What does this mean for the ICT industry? It means that small handheld devices would have so much storage that you could run your life on line or offline and the role of the central server would become less important. Moreover, the wireless infrastructure needed to run real time high def video, streaming at 6 MBps, would not be quite as critical as is now assumed. Whenever my device was on, it could be trickle charging with all the video, data and music that are set in my “preference cache” from the cloud, but then could run the video from flash memory with none of the stutter we all see on wireless web streaming. In this world, the question becomes, who has their software in the most devices connected to the cloud? Today, Microsoft is far ahead of Google in that battle. They have software in million of phones, billions of PC’s, millions of X-Boxes and a few million TV set top boxes.
I wouldn’t be writing the obituary for Microsoft just yet.