Microsoft’s annual Build conference is on this week, and the headline announcements are centered on all things AI and IoT/edge computing.
Microsoft is betting on a world where there are three main computing locations: the cloud, in datacenters, and at the edge, with a layer of AI sprinkled over the top of it all. The company wants to do this with two key platforms: Microsoft Azure, and Microsoft 365.
Sound familiar? It should, because Microsoft has done this before. Azure is Windows, and 365 is Office. These were the two cash cows that propelled Microsoft to become the behemoth that it is today. The plan is the same: make the experience of Microsoft products ubiquitous so that they become the de facto standard, and then print money.
The key to this plan is the same as it was for Windows: developers. If developers find the Azure/365 platform compelling, they’ll use it to write their apps, and then customers will want to use those apps, and you end up with a lovely flywheel, because developers want to write apps for the platforms that all their customers are already using. It’s why Blackberry, and Nokia, and Windows Phone all died: there was no there there.
The phone battle is lost, so Microsoft is moving on to the edge where the battle is fresh and new and there’s no one with a lock on a majority market share. Right now it’s the wild west, with the majority of device makers building on some kind of embedded Linux with a few custom utility functions thrown on top, which is why IoT devices are so incredibly robust and secure.
Or, they could use Azure IoT Edge instead and let Microsoft provide all the functions that are expensive to develop on your own, like an app and security update mechanism. When it’s a commodity to have (because any competitor can just run IoT Edge as well) then it becomes a hygiene factor. Why try to roll your own security (because that always goes well) when you can just buy it and get on with building stuff customers are willing to pay for? If a bunch of your competitors are using such a platform, not using a similar platform makes your product less desirable.
Right now, security is terrible everywhere, so having to charge a lot more for a low-priced device is a disadvantage when your competitors can just throw something out the door and cry “YOLO!” all the way to bank. The economic incentives pretty much demand that no one care about cybersecurity for cheap computers, particularly for consumer-focused ones. But if it’s easy to get security and all the other functions like AI modelling that links to the cloud, why wouldn’t you develop with that?