Put your helmets on, kiss your wives goodbye, it’s going to be a long struggle
Back in 2003-2004 I was approached by a specialist UK IT publication to write an article on the challenges to SaaS and this thing we call ‘cloud computing.’ I wrote, among other things, about the need for better backup procedures, new types of insurance against client data loss, and the need for open data formats.
The piece never ran and no explanation was given why this happened. I guess I must have misunderstood my client, she and I had different things in mind, her challenges were those that one needs to overcome in order to sell cloud-based services, whereas what I had in mind were challenges that one could easily solve by drafting long legal contracts that absolve the service provider of all responsibility, but guarantee total lock-in of customer data. Fair enough, business is business. Except those models do not scale very well and if you lock your customers inside your garden they will rebel sooner or later.
This article is also available on Amazon Kindle. You may consider buying it, if you would like to keep it for your reference.
Microsoft is no stranger to this. If you follow the history of their Office suite, you will notice that they tried several times to create a closed eco-system with no easy way to export files in formats compatible with other word processors, spreadsheets, presentation software, calendars, address books, or databases. It took a long time to force them to adopt open formats but it remains to be seen whether or not they will try to do it again with their office suite in the cloud.
But Microsoft is not the only company building a closed cloud garden, Apple and Google do the same and there is no way to exchange files between those three clouds. You cannot work on a presentation in Microsoft PowerPoint at home, choose File->Save As…-> and save it directly to Google Docs cloud, then open it in Apple Keynote on your iPad while you are on the, and finally present it in a meeting using Google Docs.
Both users and cloud office suites providers must be careful here. The users should not give the providers too much resign over their documents and the providers should be careful not to grab too much power or they will scare people aways.
Google’s decision to abandon popular file export formats that let users interchange file between cloud, desktop, and mobile office software sends the wrong message. I hope Google change their mind.
Moving to the cloud won’t be plain sailing. It will be a struggle for power and we should prepare for lots of unexpected challenges ahead. Man your posts, it’s going to be ugly.