August 2, 2007
@ 02:40 AM

Yesterday, I was chatting with a former co-worker about Mary Jo Foley's article Could a startup beat Microsoft and Google to market with a ‘cloud OS’? and I pointed out that it was hard to make sense of the story because she seemed to be conflating multiple concepts then calling all of them a "cloud OS". It seems she isn’t the only one who throws around muddy definitions of this term as evidenced by C|Net articles like Cloud OS still pie in the sky and blog posts from Microsoft employees like Windows Cloud! What Would It Look Like!? 

I have no idea what Microsoft is actually working on in this space and even if I did I couldn't talk about it anyway. However I do think it is a good idea for people to have a clear idea of what they are talking about when the throw around terms like "cloud OS" or "cloud platform" so we don't end up with another useless term like SOA which means a different thing to each person who talks about it. Below are the three main ideas people often identify as a "Web OS", "cloud OS" or "cloud platform" and examples of companies executing on that vision.

WIMP Desktop Environment Implemented as a Rich Internet Application (The YouOS Strategy)

Porting the windows, icons, menu and pointer (WIMP) user interface which has defined desktop computing for the last three decades to the Web is seen by many logical extension of the desktop operating system. This is a throwback to the Oracle's network computer of the late 1990s where the expectation is that the average PC is not much more than a dumb terminal with enough horse power to handle the display requirements and computational needs of whatever rich internet application platform is needed to make this work.

A great example of a product in this space is YouOS. This seems to be the definition idea of a "cloud os" that is used by Ina Fried in the C|Net article Cloud OS still pie in the sky.

My thoughts on YouOS and applications like it were posted a year ago, my opinion hasn't changed since then.

Platform for Building Web-based Applications (The Amazon Strategy)

When you look at presentations on scaling popular websites like YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, eBay, etc it seems everyone keeps hitting the same problems and reinventing the same wheels. They all start of using LAMP thinking that’s the main platform decision they have to make. Then they eventually add on memcached or something similar to reduce disk I/O. After that, they may start to hit the limits of the capability of relational database management systems and may start taking data out of their databases, denormalizing them or simply repartition/reshard them as they add new machines or clusters. Then they realize that they now have dozens of machines in their data center when they started with one or two and managing them (i.e. patches, upgrades, hard disk crashes, dynamically adding new machines to the cluster, etc) becomes a problem.

Now what if someone who’d already built a massively scalable website and now had amassed a bunch of technologies and expertise at solving these problems decided to rent out access to their platform to startups and businesses who didn’t want to deal with a lot of the costs and complexities of building a popular Website beyond deciding whether to go with LAMP or WISC? That’s what Amazon has done with Amazon Web Services such as EC2 ,S3, SQS and the upcoming Dynamo.  

The same way a desktop operating system provides an abstraction over the complexity of interacting directly with the hardware is the way Amazon’s “cloud operating system” insulates Web developers from a lot of the concerns that currently plague Web development outside of actually writing the application code and dealing with support calls from their customers.

My thoughts on Amazon’s Web Services strategy remain the same. I think this is the future of Web platforms but there is still a long way to go for it to be attractive to today’s startup or business.

NOTE: Some people have commented that it is weird for an online retailer to get into this business. This belies a lack of knowledge of the company’s history. Amazon has always been about gaining expertise at some part of the Web retailer value chain then opening that up to others as a platform. Previous examples include the Amazon Honor System which treats their payment system as a platforn, Fulfillment by Amazon which treats their warehousing and product shipping system as a platform, zShops allows you to sell your products on their Website as well as more traditional co-branding deals where other sites reused their e-commerce platform such as

Web-based Applications and APIs for Integrating with Them (The Google Strategy)

Similar to Amazon, Google has created a rich set of tools and expertise at building and managing large scale websites. Unlike Amazon, Google has not indicated an interest in renting out these technologies and expertise to startups and businesses. Instead Google has focused on using their platform to give them a competitive advantage in the time to market, scalability and capabilities of their end user applications. Consider the following… 

If I use GMail for e-mail, Google Docs & Spreadsheets for my business documents, Google Calendar for my schedule, Google Talk for talking to my friends, Google search to find things on my desktop or on the Web and iGoogle as my start page when I get on the computer then it could be argued that for all intents and purposes my primary operating system was Google not Windows. Since every useful application eventually becomes a platform, Google’s Web-based applications are no exception. There is now a massive list of APIs for interacting and integrating with Google’s applications which make it easier to get data into Google’s services (e.g. the various GData APIs) or to spread the reach of Google’s services to sites they don’t control  (e.g. widgets like the Google AJAX Search API and the Google Maps API).

In his blog post GooOS, the Google Operating System Jason Kottke argues that the combination of Google’s various Web applications and APIs [especially if they include an office suite] plus some desktop and mobile entry points into their services is effectively a Google operating system. Considering Google’s recent Web office leanings and its bundling deals with Dell and Apple, it seems Jason Kottke was particularly prescient given that he wrote his blog post in 2004.

Now playing: Fabolous - Do The Damn Thing (feat. Young Jeezy)


Thursday, August 2, 2007 5:50:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Hi Dare,

You might want to check out Startforce:


Thursday, August 2, 2007 11:59:33 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Each major shift in technology is accompanied by a period of entropy in our vocabulary.

As part of this space, we at 3tera track all the terms you've mentioned with interest, but I think you've left a couple out. Utility computing and the somewhat less used Internet OS both clearly overlap with some of the usage of Cloud OS.
Friday, August 3, 2007 6:28:07 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare, Dynamo is internal-only technology for Amazon, it is/will not be an external service. Once the paper is final & public it'll become clear what particular problem space the technology addresses.
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