For all their faults Microsoft have done some really great work and brought a lot of innovative ideas to fruition. Sure their strategy of embrace, extend and extinguishrightfully earnt them the reputation of being an evil company but despite this they’ve continued to deliver products that are really head and shoulders above the competition. From emerging technologies like the Surfaceto dragging others kicking and screaming into the world of online game consoles Microsoft has shown that when they want to they can innovate just like anyone else can. One of those innovations that, in my opinion, hasn’t received the press it should is the idea of the Three Screens and a Cloud form of computing which Microsoft started talking about almost 2 years ago.
The idea itself is stunningly simple: that the computing experience between the three main screens a user has (their computer, phone and TV) should be connected and ubiquitous. Whilst I still detest using the word cloud computing for anything (it feels like magic hand waving) the idea of all these screens being connected to a persistent cloud back end unlocks potential for innovation on quite a large scale. The devil is in the details of course and whilst such an idea is something to behold the actual implementation of this is what will show whether or not Microsoft knows what it’s talking about, rather than just drumming up some hype with a new industry buzz term.
Microsoft is already making headway into implementing this idea with their Live Mesh range of online services. I’ve been a big user of their remote desktopfeatures that have allowed me to remote in via anywhere with a web browser. They’ve also been hard at work making their Office products more accessible through Office Web Apps, which provide a pretty good experience especially considering they’re free. Their current strategy for getting on the TV sees to be centered around improving the Xbox Live experience and integrating it with the upcoming mobile platform Windows Phone 7. Time will tell if they’ll be able to draw all of these platforms together to fully realise the Three Screens idea, but they’re well on their way to delivering such a service.
Stepping away from Microsoft’s work the idea of a computing experience being agnostic to the platform you’re on has been a fascination of mine for quite some time. You see I make my money based around virtualization which has its roots in the idea of removing dependency on a platform from the software. More recently I’ve been diving into the world of virtual desktops which give you the novel ability of taking your desktop session with you, needing only a USB key for the user. There are quite a few companies offering products that implement this idea but more recently some have taken it a step further like CITRIX and their search for a Nirvana Phone. Realistically I see no reason why you couldn’t interact with that same session directly on the phone or on a TV if you so desired, getting us dangerously close to realising the Three Screens idea.
Although Microsoft is credited with the soundbite that captures this idea they’re not the only ones working towards unifying a computing experience across platforms. Google has made serious inroads into the mobile sector and just this year announced that they would be coming to the last screen they had missed, the TV. They’ve also taken the first steps to integrating the phone and computer experiences with the Chrome to Phone extension for their browser. Whilst Apple had been some what lax about their foray into TV they have since revampedthe idea to be more like their other iOS based products, signalling that they too are looking to unify the user experience.
At it’s heart the notion of Three Screens is of freedom and ubiquity, with users data empowered through it’s ability to transcend restrictions that once plagued it. The true realisation of this idea is still yet to be seen but I know that the unification of the three key computing platforms is not far away. With so many big players vying for dominance I’m sure that we’ll see a platform war of the likes we’ve never seen before and hopefully from that the best products and services will arise victorious, to the benefit of us all.