I had the pleasure of not just visiting Microsoft last week, but also getting approximately an hour of one-on-one conversation with Ray Ozzie, who I personally regard as one of, if not the most, significant founding fathers of Collaborative working. It’s Ray who in the heyday of Lotus, before acquisition by IBM, came up with Notes, at the time a complete revolution in thinking and capability. He followed that with Groove, which was acquired by Microsoft and today, as I am sure you will know, took over from Bill Gates as the Chief Architect at Microsoft. However our conversation mostly wasn’t about collaboration per se, instead it focussed on the whole impact of a technology generation change.
Ray believes, exactly as I do, that we are at the moment when, as with the advent of the PC, a perfect storm of change elements is coming together and the whole computing, technology, user, etc. model is shifting to a new generation. At this time who buys, who sells, and how the objects are provided, supported, paid for and consumed all will change again, just as it did when the PC and Client Server model broke the Mini Computer model. So we were discussing Clouds as one of the key elements in providing the necessary abstraction, and this led to a moment of reminiscing about the past, which is when it struck me how few people really seem to understand Virtualisation. Yes, Virtualisation dates all the way back to the dawning of the mainframe era, and now it stretches forward again as a key element in Clouds.

You can get a good briefing on the topic at WiKipedia under the heading of Virtualisation of course, but strangely enough I thought the entry under HyperVisor was as good, if not better. There will be a few surprises for those of you who have never worked with older Mainframes, or Minis when you read this! By the way, whilst at WiKipedia take a look at the entry for Cloud Computing, it has been updated to include the comment ‘is often confused with Grid Computing’, at last some accuracy is taking over from the hype!
But back to the real point: Microsoft and our new era of technology. A really interesting paper was published by Microsoft Research that gives a clue to what all of this can mean to the way that some things will change. Thrillingly titled ‘The Multi Principle OS Construction of the Gazelle Web Browser’ this paper is in fact pretty readable as it deals with a very understandable issue, and proposes the need to develop a new generation of Browsers to handle this. Their solution is code named the Gazelle Browser and I feel we will hear more about this in the not so distant future, as I can see tie ups with the Cloud world that Windows Azure is creating.
The basic premise is that Browsers were developed to view static web site content sequentially, but that Clouds are developing this into dynamic web applications constructed by using content from multiple web sites. A move that can only accelerate as web sites move to acting as Cloud Platforms specifically designed to allow the content to be accessed and shared with other sites in a real-time dynamic process. In short, the browser is now engaged in operating with multiple providers who have no common trust model, or even expectation of the manner in which their content is being used / combined with the other sites. Therefore a browser that can handle a multi-principle Operating System is required, and we have not seen one of those before, so …..
It’s an interesting paper in so far as the principle it raises can be applied to other things in the new Cloud technology world as it is pretty well always made up of a selection of elements interacting dynamically at every stage. Now past students of Mainframe Operating Systems will recognise that this is how the Mainframe developed through being able to offer its resources as Virtualised capabilities to whatever was running. The trouble was that you needed a lot of machine and resources to make it worthwhile at that time, but then as we went forward, HP gave a number of these principles in its Itanium based machines but not many people appreciated this feature some years ago. Now we have VMware to thank for bringing Virtualisation back to our notice again.
But this post is about Microsoft, and more than that it’s about them piling up the pieces to make perhaps bigger, maybe I should say more complete, solution frameworks than the individual pieces suggest. There is the Hyper-V visor which provides the basic Operating System Virtualisation for the Data Centre, or Centres, followed by Windows Azure providing the Cloud Platform, and now a possible new browser framework. If I have made you interested enough, and I really hope I have, then go and read more from Microsoft Research. It’s not as good as a chat with Ray Ozzie, but it should open your eyes to see just how much of a framework Microsoft has put in place already and what it sees the Cloud to be about.