The cloud may seem like a mystery to many but it is simply the ability to do work remotely, think of it as the ability to outsource a computers workload and storage. While the cloud revolution has already begun for IT departments and people that run servers the cloud revolution for consumer electronics is yet to begin. This is Windows 365, the operating system that will kick off the consumer electronics cloud revolution.
Much of the speculation of Microsoft’s next generation Operating System has been fuelled by a patent lodged by Microsoft. The patent was first noted by a regular reader of the website NeoWin and gives many hints on the future and at the same time gives no solid details of future products.
The ambiguity of the patent has led to much confusion on the internet, with even seasoned tech commentator’s mistakenly thinking that it relates to a subscription based version of Windows. Instead it is far different than that, and far more revolutionary. As many have now pointed out with Windows 10 being given away free a subscription based model is pretty much redundant.
There are also other hints that Microsoft is working on something very different, stories have surfaced over the last 12 months of Project Midori a new operating system that is abstract, parallel and more secure; all things that are required to take an operating system into the Cloud.
The consumer cloud revolution is fast approaching and this time Microsoft may be in the perfect position to take advantage if the following ideas turn out to be correct. Is Microsoft preparing an entirely new class of OS? Will the OS give rise to an new class of consumer device?
The Cloud based OS Concept
The heart and soul of any Cloud based system is the offloading of CPU, GPU and storage to a remote server. Possibly the easiest to way to understand this concept is Sony’s implementation of Cloud based gaming for its Play Now service. When playing a game on the Now service most of the games code and all of its graphics processing are executed on Sony’s servers and the results, game graphics and sound in this case, are sent back to the device the game is being played on, be it Sony TV or PS4. The users interface looks and feels like the game is being executed locally and the user doesn’t even notice the game is being executed half a world away.
Applying this concept to an entire operating system is much the same thing, the work that the operating system does is split between local and remote CPU’s then recombined and displayed without the user even noticing.
The patent points to this ability, as DailyTech highlights a major part of the trademark is the supply of non-downloadable computer software, in other words software that is executed remotely of the device.
One of the biggest wins gained when you go to the Cloud is the Tardis effect, it makes the device much bigger on the inside than the device itself. A cloud based mobile phone for example could be provided the processing power of a full sized server, effectively squeezing the processing power of a rack of computers into a mobile phone sized device.
Microsoft already has the backend server side operating system to make all of this happen right now. All of Microsoft’s current Cloud services run on a specially designed version of Windows Server that treats each cloud client as a remote operating system, all they need is the OS that runs on the user’s device and stitches it all together, which is where Windows 365 comes in.
The trickiest part of the conversion to the cloud is splitting the workload in a way that is seamless to the user. The interface still needs to be smooth and responsive but with limited local processing power, anything requiring substantial CPU or GPU power needs to be sent off to the cloud and then returned to the device.
This is where the local and remote (cloud) balance equation comes in. The more workload you shift to the cloud the more data and download speed you need from your network and the more processing you do locally the slower things run on low power devices. Since no device in existence has unlimited network speed or unlimited processing power a balance must be struck between the two. Performing this load balancing at the operating system level is really the only way to achieve this seamlessly and doing it in the OS also means all applications that run on the OS will inherit this talent.
The initial benefits to consumers from this type of system is a cheap $100 phone could have more power than any current iOS or Android device, more power even than a desktop PC. This cheap phone could theoretically even run the latest games at 4k resolution as long as you have the network speed.
It also removes the need to upgrade you phone to get the latest chipset and the processing power that goes with it. The phone only ever needs enough power to run the interface and display the output of the clouds hard work. Upgrading devices will only then be required when network, display or camera technology advances.
One of the nicest benefits of the shift to the cloud is the effect it has when you do want to update your smartphone or any other cloud device. No backups or transfers are required; simply log into your account on the new phone and every aspect of the phone is carried across. While this is mostly possible now the cloud OS will apply it to every part of the OS; all data, settings and applications, everything that’s stored on the cloud becomes available instantly on the new device.
More than Mobile
As the patent points out Windows 365 will begin life as a mobile device operating system, any device that’s too small to fit in much processing power is the perfect starting point. That however doesn’t mean that more powerful devices such as laptops and desktop PC’s don’t need this technology, everything can be made better with the cloud.
Any device that you can hit 100% CPU with can be made better. Video rendering for example, with a fast enough internet connection and cloud based OS rendering that takes hours to do locally could be done as fast as you like on the Cloud, if you want instant processing and have enough money then you can do it without having to build your own server farm.
The very clever thing about Microsoft’s Azure Cloud based system is that it lets local and remote processing co-exist together. A reasonably fast PC could still do much of its work locally, things it can do instantly on its own CPU stay that way and don’t use any network bandwidth but any task that takes your local CPU ages could be done instantly in the Cloud using network bandwidth instead of the local CPU.
The best example of this is the way that Microsoft Azure integrates with SQL Server dayabases. Companies that shift to Azure’s cloud can keep their local SQL Server databases running as they are but with Azure’s Cloud based database running in parallel giving them many benefits. If your servers stop working everything switches to cloud and keeps your databases running, people working in other countries can use the faster cloud based processing. You can of course also shift SQL Server completely to the Cloud and abandon your own servers if you want to reduce your costs massively.
From a consumer electronics stand point all of this adds up to the users not having to choose either or, cloud or local. Instead you can mix and match how local and remote processing integrates. This is the trick that Windows 365 will bring, seamless OS level load balancing of local and remote processing.
Windows 365 could also be offered to Apple and Google to run on their devices and bring the benefits and applications to those devices. While it is more likely that Apple and Google will also produce their own cloud based operating systems eventually Windows on an Apple or Google device is a real possibility.
The time-frame for the release of Windows 365 is unknown; all we know for sure is that Microsoft needs to shift this technology out of the labs as soon as possible.
If Windows 365 can live up to the hype it may just signal the start of the consumer cloud revolution, a revolution that will make many consumer devices cloud based and cheap, drastically reducing the hardware costs of any device.
After falling behind during the smartphone/tablet revolution is Microsoft about to jump ahead of the curve once more? A fully functioning cloud based operating system may hand them the tools to make this jump.