Mark Minasi: Windows Server could aid Microsoft's cloud ambitions

Windows expert Mark Minasi discusses the future of Windows Server 2008 and where Microsoft's cloud strategy fits into the mix.

Windows expert and author, Mark Minasi, has followed Microsoft core products from early versions of the DOS operating system to the latest version of Windows Server. Executive Editor Ed Scannell recently caught up with Minasi to discuss a range of topics including Windows Server 2008 and what he sees next for that product, the company's still developing cloud computing strategy and what he makes of Microsoft effort to better componentize Windows.

What is high on the wish list of IT shops for the next version of Windows Server 2008, whenever that's going to be?

Mark Minasi: Exactly, no one knows when that is going to be. When we talk to the Microsoft guys about it they just change the subject. We have taken to calling it Windows Voldemort -- the Windows that can't be spoken of.

So then how do you see the product evolving over the next few years?

Minasi: You will see more virtual capabilities put in there. Virtualization is where things are really exploding. Some of the other big changes will have to do with – and I don't care much for this -- cloud. Microsoft right now is making a huge cloud bet. One of the things that will be most important is Active Directory in the cloud, something they will be talking about in a couple of months. That will be affecting Windows Server I am sure. The coolest thing for Windows 8 I can think of is if they put a client hypervisor in it -- so called Hyper C. That would be wonderful, but Hyper V is built for servers not for desktops.

Where does Windows Server fit into the companies larger cloud strategies with things like Azure and Office 365?

Minasi: It will remain the platform, of course. I haven't had an opportunity to look at Azure Server, because I can't get near it. But I'll bet all the money in the world that the OS it will run on is Windows Server 2008 R2, tweaked somewhat. (Windows Server) will be the basis of all the Azure machines I am certain. If after you see the top 12 features of Windows Server 8, and half of them make you scratch your head and ask, 'why would I want that'? That will be because you aren't a cloud vendor. By the way, if you look at the pricing on both Azure and Exchange hosting, it looks like 99% of the vendors offering Azure will be Microsoft itself.

Speaking of that Microsoft and HP are reportedly teaming up to host a number of Microsoft applications including hosted and SaaS-based versions of Exchange. Is this a smart thing for them to do?

Minasi: I keep hearing Microsoft will offer Exchange mail boxes for $6 a month per user. I don’t know how cloud vendors can compete with that. They know Windows is in trouble and the cloud potentially can really hurt it. If I am Proctor & Gamble, I do not care about pissing matches with operating systems. If I have a cloud product, all I want to know is, can I get to it easily through a browser. And I want it to be browser agnostic because I am not signing up for a cloud that only works with Chrome of IE 9. You can create rich programs with Windows or the Mac, but you are tied to one OS. But with browsers we have go to the lowest common denominator because all the apps must run on Chrome Safari, Firefox and IE. That's sad but good too because it frees us from a single operating system. But that means Windows is in a lot of trouble.

So it appears Microsoft must be committed both as a cloud advocate but also continue pushing Windows-centric development?

Minasi: On one hand Microsoft is pushing the cloud which could be a Window's desktop killer. On the other hand they want to be the cloud. They want to be both Azure for the apps stuff as well as the platform for SaaS kinds of things like Exchange and SharePoint. They are carrying their favorite son in the hopes of creating a bigger and better one.

Does their Office 365 strategy make sense in the context of their cloud computing strategy with Azure?

Minasi: With Azure what Microsoft has is almost a new thing in that it is an operating-system-as a service. When you sign up for Azure you get nothing. It is a tabula rasa, but you can do anything with it. If you want to do Win 32, groovy. if you want to do .Net, even groovier. Of course getting your apps on and off will be interesting. For years Microsoft has tried to convert software from something you buy into something you rent. The cloud is the ultimate way to do that.

The Microsoft Service OS Project, what is the basic idea here?

Minasi: It is part of a bigger idea, which is a good idea. What they are trying to do is a better job at componentizing Windows. It would be wonderful to have a tiny version of Windows, a mini OS. To make that work they would have to re-write Windows. [Microsoft’s] Mark Russinovich has demonstrated early versions of this. It looks cool. The real benefit of a componentized Windows is that it is possible to build appliances that can plug right into the network and so do Web services stuff in an interesting way.

Is it even relevant any more for Microsoft to enhance its image as a technical innovator?

Minasi: Not unless they produce some innovation that can talk to me or do the dishes. Apple's stuff is glitzy and cute, I love my iPhone and iPad but I can live without them. But I never say to myself, man, I want to store my data with Apple. Apple is the flashy girl you go out with a couple of times but Microsoft is the one you settle down with.

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