2012 - The IT Perspective: Mostly cloudy

By Graeme Burton
21 Dec 2012 View Comments
Oracle's Larry Ellison

The focus on enterprise cloud computing, at the moment, is on infrastructure services and administrative applications - as opposed to operational applications.

Further reading

That means services such as Amazon Web Services, the Google Compute Engine, and Rackspace Open Cloud in infrastructure; while Workday in human resources applications and Google Apps provide the most high-profile independent competition in enterprise applications.

This year, Workday successfully floated on the Nasdaq stock exchange, in a watershed moment for cloud computing. For founder Dave Duffield, it came just eight years after the sale of his old company, PeopleSoft, to Oracle.

Establishing Workday in 2005, Duffield has sought to make in-roads into the old PeopleSoft customer base with Workday as Oracle has ruffled feathers in seeking to shift old PeopleSoft customers to Oracle Fusion, Oracle's unified enterprise resource planning suite.

It remains to be seen whether the major acquisitions over cloud services companies by the enterprise software elite will pay off. But in trying to meld their traditional businesses with cloud services, the major enterprise software vendors have struggled to build a licensing model that satisfies their customers.

Both SAP and Oracle have been subject to repeated customer complaints that their licensing policies are confusing and unfair, and their prices expensive, with SAP's UK managing director forced to defend the company's practices at the SAP user conference in December.

Window into the soul
While SAP and Oracle were jostling for position in cloud, Microsoft was also engaged in a rearguard action to protect is position in operating systems and, by extension, office applications, with the release of its 8-series operating systems.

These were more than just a refresh. Not only did they combine the code base for all Microsoft's operating systems around the NT kernel, but introduced a similar touch-oriented interface, and look and feel, across devices running Microsoft's operating systems.

Microsoft, of course, is facing growing competition to its Windows+Office de facto monopoly from mobile computing in the form of Apple iOS and, especially, Google's Linux-based Android operating system.

So the launch of Windows 8 in October was arguably the biggest single event in enterprise software this year, even if it will not be as far-reaching as the continuing developments in cloud computing.

But few organisations have rushed to upgrade to Windows 8, given the upheaval it might involve in terms of training and support. Furthermore, whereas 15 years ago people would queue-up outside shops overnight to be the first to get their hands on a new Microsoft operating system, today the excitement - if you could call it that - around Microsoft has passed. The crowds prefer to queue up for the latest iPhone from Apple instead.

Microsoft had promised a unified interface that would unite touch-based tablet computers with mouse and keyboard-style desktops and laptops. The result, though, was a hotch-potch of both, which didn't adequately satisfy either.

The touch-oriented "Modern UI" that features prominently on Windows 8 adverts lacks the intuitive smoothness of rivals Google Android and Apple iOS - which have been much longer in development, after all - featuring hidden gesture commands that are far from logical.

Furthermore, it all too quickly gives way to the more familiar, non-touch-oriented desktop interface.

Microsoft further complicated its message by forking its own code. A new version, Windows 8 RT, written to run on the ARM architecture rather than Intel's, was necessary for Microsoft to bring out its own tablet computer with a decent battery life.

But none of Microsoft's legacy applications will work on Windows 8 RT. Indeed, no Intel-based Windows 8 applications will run on it either, and the RT 'app store' is decidedly empty too.

It remains to be seen how long Microsoft will stick with it given the speed with which the president of the Windows Division, Stephen Sinofsky, was ushered out of the door as soon as the cleaners had finished tidying up after the launch. 

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