If you're looking for a turning point in the inevitable shift away from client computing to cloud computing, last month might be the best choice. It was the month that cloud computing finally became real.
Why June 2012? As Quentin Hardy pointed out in the Quentin Hardy pointed out in the New York Times, June saw the first Microsoft-branded tablet: A device called the Surface that's powered in part by Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud technology. Hardy also noted that June was the month in which Google announced the 7-in. Nexus 7 tablet, which uses Google's myriad cloud-based services, and Apple previewed iOS 6, which is powered by Apple's cloud services and iCloud.
Notice that there were no big PC announcements. No new chip breakthroughs. No new versions of major pieces of client-based software -- and aside from Office, what major pieces of client-based software are left, anyway?
Microsoft's and Google's new tablets are certainly outpowered by any garden-variety PC, so don't expect them to be benchmark-breakers. But they don't need to be.
For some time, all three companies have recognized that their future lies in the cloud. But as the June announcements show, they see their present there as well. Google is the most notable example. The Nexus 7 tablet is priced aggressively, at $199. Google may not make any money on the device itself; any profit will come from cloud-based services, largely via advertising, although possibly via some paid services as well. Even Google's director of hardware, Matt Hershenson, is on board with that vision. At Google I/O 2012, he told the crowd that we're entering an era in which consumer electronics is the hardware, the software and the cloud.
Although the June announcements largely target consumers, the enterprise isn't being left out. Microsoft's entry was the most serious cloud play for corporate IT. Its Surface Pro, an Intel-based tablet that runs the full-blown version of Windows 8, will run Office like a PC and will likely feature enterprise deployment tools. Tellingly, Microsoft sees it not just as an adjunct to a desktop or a laptop. It sees it as potentially replacing laptops, especially for mobile workers, because its cover doubles as a keyboard.
Even Google's inexpensive Nexus 7 tablet could be of use in the enterprise. As with other Android devices, you'll run it by signing in with a Google account, which means it's tied directly to Gmail and Google Docs, both of which are aimed straight at businesses. Google is also expected to eventually release a larger, 10-in. tablet as well.
And while Apple has never been as enterprise-focused as Microsoft and Google, it's continuing its strategy of amassing enough support from consumers that employers will bow to employee demands that they support the iPad and iPhone -- furthering the BYOD (bring-your-own-device) movement. Apple is also making moves to acknowledge that it can't thrive on hardware alone. It has replaced Google Maps in the newest version of iOS with its own Maps app. Apple may claim that its goal is to provide a superior user experience, but it really comes down to this: Rather than allowing Google to reap the benefits of location-based advertising, Apple hopes to do that with its own app.
We buried big iron long ago. The events of June 2012 may have put little iron -- PCs and their ilk -- on its deathbed. From here on in, it's all about the weightless cloud.
Preston Gralla is a Computerworld.com contributing editor and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).
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