Seattle averages 226 cloudy days per year. If Microsoft has its way, in 2009 the cumulus will keep on coming. Cloud computing, all the rage among tech companies from Amazon to Zoho, is also reshaping the software behemoth. Led by Bill Gates's replacement as chief software architect, Ray Ozzie, a new operating system for Web-based applications, code-named Red Dog, will transform both how Microsoft delivers its products, and its business model.
Instead of laboring for years over some massive new upgrade (think: Vista), it will increasingly focus on supplying a continuous array of cloud-based services -- and continuous revenues. Hopes are high, for example, for Live Mesh, an attempt to sync people's calendars, contacts, photos, music and other data into a seamless, ubiquitous service. Even the mighty Office Suite will soon be airborne.
Of course, Microsoft is much more than just Windows and its spawn. Over at Xbox, a new entertainment channel called "Independent Video" will offer original content on Xbox LIVE. The company's Web design software, Silverlight, is gaining traction against Adobe's Flash. And in less than 3 years, technology fellow Gary Flake's innovation incubator, Live Labs, has filed for more than 100 patents for products ranging from Photosynth (which turns snapshots into 360-degree virtual worlds,) to blog analysis products to track Internet memes.
Clouds may just be the new sun in Redmond.
Editor's note: Attempting to write about Microsoft's many businesses within a 150 word limit (for the magazine) initially drove our writer to despair. But research into the Redmond giant's experiments with cloud computing provided the inspiration to distill their diverse initiatives into spare, evocative verse. It didn't hurt that she had had to memorize Wordsworth's 1804 poem  (often erroneously called "Daffodils,") in the fourth grade. She's now threatening to write all future stories in iambic pentameter.
with apologies to Wordsworth
We wander lonely as a cloud
Of data over Redmond's hills
As Ozzie fears his vision thing
Will never measure up to Bill's.
The Vista launch sure hit some snags
But Windows 7 makes them right,
And Flakenstein is ramping up
So Live Labs' future's looking bright.
The Yahoo deal went belly up
And Google wants to clean our clock.
Those Mac ads hurt, so we struck back
And Gates and Seinfeld spurred some talk.
With Xbox Live, we'll float some tricks
And Red Dog's sure to be a hit
So crank those patent presses up --
We're Microsoft. We never quit.