Microsoft’s Three Screens and a Cloud

Lately, it has occurred to me that Microsoft’s banter about “Three Screens and a Cloud” gets more real every day — those screens being your smartphone, your computer and your television, as a unified and unifying experience.

As a confessionary disclosure:

  • My computers run Windows, including my home server
  • My gaming consoles are Xbox 360s (yes, plural)
  • And my family’s smartphones are Windows Phone 7

So, I am admittedly a fan of some of the technologies that come out of Redmond – though certainly not everything.

These days, everyone seems to be preaching “cloud,” particularly every enterprise IT vendor looking for new conversations and SMB technologies aimed at reducing the workload on the SMB IT generalist. So, in mainstream IT, we are all super-saturated in cloudy talk. And Microsoft is just as vocal here as everyone else, with its Private Cloud built upon Windows Server, System Center and Hyper-V; as well as its Public Cloud, Windows Azure. What I find interesting is that the “3 Screens and a Cloud” (3S+C) story is so much more subtle and seems to be coming consumer-first, instead of enterprise-led.

Notes and Pictures

My wife has finally recognized the power of Office on her phone, with the discovery of OneNote. In lieu of disorganized notepads, stickies or other paper/electronic lists, she has wholly embraced OneNote – specifically because it uses “the cloud.” Meaning that the OneNote notebooks are stored in a folder in her SkyDrive, and are transparently and automatically kept in sync between her PC, her netbook, and her Windows Phone. Since then, she discovered uses for various Word Docs and Excel spreadsheets to be viewed on her phone, but her Ah-Ha moment was pasting a recipe from a website into OneNote on her PC, and then checking her phone to see it appear before she left for the store.

Since I work in a “cloudy” world, she sat me down and forced me to explain what “the cloud” was. Her other Ah-Ha moment was when she understood that her Hotmail email and her unlimited capacity to take pictures from her phone that were uploaded to the SkyDrive Camera Roll were examples of using “the cloud.”

She doesn’t care about “the cloud” or “which cloud” – but she absolutely appreciates when the “syncing” word pops up on various devices, even if she hadn’t previously understood exactly what it was doing or cared enough to even be curious.


This week, Microsoft releases the latest dashboard (system UI) for its Xbox360 – and one of its features is “Cloud Storage.”

You can read just how cool this feature is to a gaming family on my gaming blog,

The short version is that game saves (progress/score), as well as your gaming profile (ID), are now storeable within the Xbox Live service (cloud).

  • My teenage nephew, Matthew, is the quintessential power-gamer, who can now pull down his GamerTag and game-saves at any of his buddies’ houses, without carrying/losing USB sticks or proprietary memory devices.
  • For years, my kids and I have each had our own Xbox memory sticks to shuffle around between our family room and bedrooms, depending on who wanted to play where and with whom.
  • It also removes a source of dissatisfaction – losing a GameSave due to corruption. By syncing stuff to the cloud, we get automatic backups (ironically, my other passion at work).

It won’t take long before gamers consider cloud-storage to be their norm. It is easy to turn on and then completely transparent, except when it is visibly of huge value … kind of like backup is transparent until you need to restore, but I digress.

My point here is that most gamers don’t care about “the cloud.” Some of them play others online, while others just want portability of their data. But starting today, they are all consuming services from yet another of Microsoft’s cloud-based services.


“The Cloud”

I could offer other examples, but here is why it matters:

For many consumers, “the cloud” isn’t a destination, it’s just a method. In these examples, it’s just the glue.

  • I doubt that my wife will ever open a web browser and go to SkyDrive to open the online version of her OneNote notebook, but she could. On the other hand, these days, she would be hard pressed to take even small notes without either the PC at her desk, her netbook while volunteering at school, or on her phone while sitting on the couch. Why? Because she knows that her data is the same everywhere and that is new value/capability that she didn’t have before and wouldn’t want to be without.
  • In my house, we’ll be retiring a bunch of memory sticks and cartridges this week, and I bet we aren’t alone. Again, check out my other blog,, for more on that.

Frankly, all of the “cloud” buzz aimed at IT/business folks is likely confusing or even agitating to normal people that in fact use cloud-services every day. It turns out that a lot of that “cloud” buzz confuses and likely agitates a lot of business and IT people, too.

Ya know … when you think about Enterprise IT, “the cloud” isn’t a destination there either … it is still just a method. The method being “self-service based, elastically-provisioned, natively resilient, etc.” method of delivering what we’ve always delivered … IT services. That’s all!

And ironically, while many IT folks may be pounding their heads on their desks from another CIO meeting about going “to the cloud,” their kids and spouses may already be happily consuming cloud services – and couldn’t care less how it works.

One reason that I am an admitted Microsoft fan is because they do have all 3 of those screens and some clouds. Do I think that Microsoft does them all well? No. While I love the Windows Phone experience and its integration with the other screens and cloud, there are parts of their go-to-market execution that are beyond frustrating. While I like the their server infrastructure components, their message seems to be too much “cloud”. At some point, IT Pro’s will need to put their hands on technologies – so I hope that we’ll see more technical depth behind the cloud as we get closer to the System Center and Windows Server 8 launches. I am a fan of some other companies and technologies too. As for Microsoft, while they certainly are not perfect, when those three screens and their clouds work together, good things seem to happen …

1 thought on “Microsoft’s Three Screens and a Cloud”

Leave a Reply