If you’ve watched any television at all in the last few weeks, you’ve probably seen one of Microsoft‘s “To the Cloud” commercials. These consumer-focused ads feature ordinary folks happily going “to the cloud” when confronted with a conundrum that Windows can solve. (For some reason this always involves a spinning wall panel that replaces their computer with a nicer, brand name model. We think they’re trying to invoke the old Adam West Batman TV series from the 60′s.)
While we’re all for cloud computing and the scalability, convenience and efficiency it offers, we’re against confusing people about it, which is what it appears Microsoft is up to in at least two of the three “To the Cloud” ads we’ve seen. Despite proclaiming that Microsoft’s “cloud” is helping them realize their computing dreams, the ad’s characters are really just using their computers off line or using the Internet independent of any cloud services. We’ll explain, starting with the “Airport” ad at the top of this post.
The sympathetic couple in the ad, stuck at the airport and in need of stimulation, turns to their Internet-connected laptop to stream TV shows recorded on their home PC. Bordom averted! “Yay, cloud…” sighs the woman semi-enthusiastically. Her lack of enthusiasm may stem from the fact that despite what Microsoft implies in the ad, the cloud has nothing to do with their ability to connect to their home PC at the airport. Though a close look at the laptop screen at 15 seconds into the commercial reveals that the couple is using Windows Live Mesh, which includes cloud-based file synching and storage, the feature of Windows Live Mesh that the ad is championing is remote desktop access. We don’t need to tell you that this feature has been available on many, many platforms (including Windows) for years and has nothing to do with “the cloud.”
Indeed, it’s just about the opposite of cloud computing, which is supposed to centralize things and free users from having to configure and maintain their own hardware. In this case, the ad makes a point of saying that none of this is happening! The couple have clearly left their their PC at home running during their trip, and have connected via their laptop to watch TV stored on their home PC. There’s not a cloud in sight–the data comprising the TV show isn’t stored somewhere for easy or speedy retrieval–it’s still on the PC at home! Moving data from one point to another on demand isn’t “cloud computing”‘ it’s just the Internet! Microsoft wants consumers to think that an Internet connection and “the cloud” are the same.
In another “To the Cloud” ad called “Family Photo,” a mother uses the power of the “cloud” and Microsoft’s Windows Live Photo Gallery to stitch together several versions of a family portrait so that it appears that the whole family is smiling at once:
Just like at the airport, the feature that Microsoft touts in this ad, “Photo Fuse” in Windows Live Photo Gallery (say that three times fast), has nothing to do with the cloud. In fact, the Photo Fuse feature has nothing to do with the Internet, much less the cloud! All the computing necessary to stitch the photos together takes place on your PC, where all the photos are also stored. Sure, Windows Live Photo Gallery has integrated online photo storage and sharing, and yes, at the very end of the ad Mom shares her edited photo on Facebook, but the impression the ad tries to create–that somehow the magic of “the cloud” lets a harried mother create the perfect family photo–is a complete lie.
The third and final to “To the Cloud” ad we’ve seen, entitled “Start-Up,” is the only one that accurately represents what the could is and how Microsoft products can help you use it:
In this case, a group of seemingly disparate people are actually the four employees of a startup, who each access a shared, synced folder to simultaneously work on company documents. Sure, Google Docs has been letting people do this for free for a while, but in this case it’s totally fair for Microsoft’s characters to claim to be using the cloud to accomplish their computing goals-their documents and the software they use to create and edit them are all remotely hosted via Microsoft’s SkyDrive storage and Office Web Apps. This really is harnessing the power of the cloud and easy document collaboration is definitely a useful tool. Remote desktop access and easy photo compositing are also very useful things for a lot of people. It’s a shame Microsoft has chosen to confuse consumers into thinking that these are somehow “cloud” services.