Software as a service (SaaS) may be the next big thing, but Microsoft isn't giving up on the idea of a rich desktop experience and is putting its own spin on the new paradigm.
"The shorthand I like to use when we're talking about this evolution in computation and user interface model is software plus services," says CEO Steve Ballmer, speaking at last week's Worldwide Partner Conference.
"Some people like to use software as a service, and I think that basically has certain implications that I don't think are right. Some people talk about Web 2.0; that's got other implications that I don't think are exactly right.
"I think this next generation model of computing needs to bring and will bring the only model that will be able to really supersede where we are today, needs to bring together the best of four very different phenomenon: the best of the desktop PC world; rich user interface; offline and online access; what I call personal integration, the ability to bring things together and integrate them and store them and manage them and link them together in unique and arbitrary ways, not restricted to what somebody will let you do on some server or some service."
He believes that users don't want to give up the benefits of desktop computing, although they are keen to embrabce the benefits of enterprise computing, including the ability to control, manage, and enforce security, compliance and reliability.
"We need the best of the desktop, the best of the enterprise, and the best of the Web or the online world.
"People like the way on the Web you just click and run any Web site or anything that you're doing. Because the Web grew up universal, the notions of searching and collaborating, social networking, anywhere access, and high scale, high volume, low cost operations are built in.
"And, increasingly people want the best of devices: How do I get this in my pocket, how do I get this on my big screen?"
He adds that users will stay with existing computer models until the software plus services model addresses their needs.
Ballmer is adamant that the future of the user experience does not lie with the thin client or with HTML.
"It was truly nonsense to think that the world is going to give up the benefits of these rich clients, the controls, the speed, the offline characteristics. And as we talk about things like voice recognition, handwriting, natural language recognition, video processing, there's going to be more demand for rich clients, not less."
Ballmer demonstrated the company's Silverlight plug-in for running applications on the front-end, using any browser or back-end system.
On the back-end, Ballmer believes we will start to see hosted applications and servers.
"Services will bring yet another element to the equation, which is this notion of server farms that are managed, scaled globally, have huge ability, huge scale, huge ability to be moved up and down in terms of capacity on-demand, that are built from the get-go with a very new management model.
"To bring the best of the Web and the best of the enterprise together will take time. It's kind of like we've been saying, at least my full 27 years at Microsoft we've been saying the mainframe is going away. Well, the mainframe hasn't, but it is still going away. And our current model of computing will evolve and it will evolve generally in this direction [to a hosted, managed environment]."
Ballmer says there is a need to create a new service platform which will include a new management model, development model, storage, networking and computation model
"The programming model remains .NET and Windows, which is great, but we designed these things from the get-go to take advantage of modern technologies that allow for virtualization, scale-out, management, and the like, and we're going to have a lot more to talk to you about in this arena in the next 12 months," he says.
"On top of this new platform, the cloud infrastructure services, we're also building directory services, rendezvous, device management, the kinds of things that we deliver to you today in our packaged products, Windows Server, Active Directory, MOM, but really transported to this services back-end world, with the same kinds of applications again that have been rewritten to fit in this huge scale, very low cost of operations services platform, productivity services, community, collaboration, commerce and search services."