Of course Microsoft has a cloud version of Windows in the works. Why would it ignore the future of software?

After ridiculing the concept at every turn has Microsoft finally decided to get down to working up the cloud-oriented version of Windows many of its users would undoubtedly be interested in? A few weeks ago reports of ‘Explorer with Bing’ sounded like a hobby for a few programmers in a back room at Redmond, but it is starting to look as if there’s more to it than that.   

Commentators have focused on rumours of Windows Cloud by a professional leaker with form in this area but the real giveaway was a small and mostly ignored event that happened in the Google Chrome Web app store two weeks ago when to everyone’s surprise Microsoft suddenly started offering a series of Office connector apps for the Chromebook.

You heard that correctly; Microsoft has decided to make it easier for users of Google’s Chromebook  (the same platform only weeks ago trashed by the firm in a series of US TV ads)  to connect to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote online, mirroring a recent Android app that does the same job. There’s not much to these connectors in that they simply launch a connection to the respective online tabs on the Office Live website (this can be achieved manually with more effort) but from such a simple facility we learn a lot about the changing attitudes inside the world’s biggest software house.

It’s an inspired strategy because it re-connects the growing band of Chromebook users back to Office, the future of which, Microsoft realises, lies in the cloud. It’s also a calculated ploy because it gives Microsoft a way of monitoring how many Chromebook users are out there and how they use its cloud-based apps. With no cloud Windows of its own, this is good intelligence for a future offering.

It is a strong certainty that Microsoft is working on a cloud version of Windows and logically this will be free of charge for OEMs because that model is the only way to make a cloud operating system competitive on modestly-priced devices. But if Windows Cloud is real and Microsoft wants to draw people to its online apps, might it still be slightly reticent about the idea?

That could be a feature of internal politics - cloud thinker Nadella is fairly new to the helm - or perhaps the firm is nervous about undercutting its important Office 365 revenue source; if too many consumers get a taste for simple versions of word processors and spreadsheets, some might decide not to subscribe to more featured paid versions.

Make no mistake though, the confidence of Nadella’s Microsoft 2.0 reinvention will rest on how well it can accommodate the world of 2014 in which consumers use a variety of products, including many not made by Microsoft. Putting Office on the Chromebook and Android devices is a good start but the appearance of Windows Cloud will be the big test of a deeper philosophical change that so far seems to have been happening behind closed doors.

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