Windows 8.1 & Xbox One Will Make the "Three Screens & a Cloud" Reality

Microsoft has mentioned for a long time now, their strategy of "three screens and a cloud". As always, there were many naysayers who criticized it even though it was never fully implemented. That's until the end of 2013, when Windows 8.1 and Xbox One will be launched to market. What did this strategy mean when it was first envisioned and how it will look like when it is fully implemented, with Windows 8.1 and Xbox One?

"Three screens and a cloud" - What did they mean in back in 2009?

Back in 2009, Ray Ozzie from Microsoft was saying the following:

"So, moving forward, again I believe that the world some number of years from now in terms of how we consume IT is really shifting from a machine-centric viewpoint to what we refer to as three screens and a cloud: the phone, the PC, and the TV ultimately, and how we deliver value to them."

Basically, Microsoft envisioned a future in which the consumer of technology was using his PC, smartphone and TV to work, view content and be productive. All these devices were sharing applications, settings and data between them. The user was free to use any of these devices, anywhere, the only condition being access to the Internet and to a cloud-based service that was synchronizing all these devices.

At that time, Microsoft was working on launching its Windows Azure cloud-computing platform. Cloud storage and synchronization services were at their beginning: for example, SkyDrive did not exist as a brand and Microsoft was using Windows Live Mesh. Also, Dropbox was recently launched and seeing its first versions being developed.

As always, many tech pundits rushed to call this strategy a failure when the reality is that this strategy was not fully implemented. Until now - 4 years later. Only with Windows 8.1 and Xbox One will this strategy become a reality. But how it will this vision look like, after 4 years?

"Three screens and a cloud" = "Four screens and a cloud" in 2013

The initial vision was good on but it had to evolve very quickly from three screens and a cloud to four screens and a cloud. As of 2010 onward, when the iPad was launched, users were using four screens instead of three: the PC, the tablet, the smartphone and the TV. The tablet is an important element which, unfortunately for Microsoft, was ignored for a long time. Only now do they have real competition to the iPad. But that's another discussion.

The vision was great also because it claimed the cloud as the key to connect all these devices, their data, settings and the apps used on them. Without the cloud, the vision wouldn't be possible. At the end of 2013 there are only two companies delivering this vision: Apple and Microsoft. Nobody else has all these five elements. Not even Google. And no, Chromebook is not a real PC in a productivity sense, only a tool for using Google's cloud services. As a result, is market share is insignificant and it will remain so for the next couple of years.

Apple uses its iCloud to connect all its devices: Mac PCs, iPads, iPhones and Apple TVs. At the end of 2013, Microsoft will finally have all the pieces together: PCs with Windows 8.1, tablets with Windows 8.1, Windows Phones and the Xbox One. Apple dominates Microsoft in the tablet and smartphone market while Microsoft dominates Apple when it comes to PCs and TVs. Many forget that Xbox One will be a multimedia device, capable of offering what Apple TV offers, plus the gaming experience specific to consoles. To its ecosystem Microsoft has added a very important product - Office 2013 and Office 365 - a productivity tool that's perfectly integrated with SkyDrive and all Microsoft devices.

But are these elements enough to turn the balance into Microsoft's favor and make it the market leader when counting the market share of all mainstream computing devices?

This remains to be seen but, until the future becomes the present, let's take a look at how SkyDrive will be integrated with the upcoming products from Microsoft.

In Windows 8.1 - SkyDrive is part of the operating system & cannot be removed

In a previous article - SkyDrive at the Core of the Windows 8.1 Experience - What Does it Mean? - I mentioned that SkyDrive has become a part of the Windows 8.1 operating system. This is a very important change because, whether you use it or not, SkyDrive is there. Also, it is the only Windows 8.1 feature that cannot be uninstalled using the tools available in Windows. You can only choose to ignore it, just like many users ignore Internet Explorer and use Google Chrome or Firefox.

I find it ironic that you can now remove Internet Explorer with ease and you have to hack Windows 8.1 to remove SkyDrive, which can negatively impact the way the operating system works.

Regarding Xbox One and its integration with SkyDrive - very little is known at this point. Xbox One will have three operating systems (the console operating system, a modified Windows kernel and another operating system managing the communication between the other two), which means that porting SkyDrive won't be a huge deal, technically speaking. Keeping in mind how SkyDrive is promoted in Windows 8.1 and Office 2013, I expect that Xbox One will have a similarly aggressive integration with SkyDrive.

What will consumers & the market think about the four screens and a cloud?

Now that we will finally have all the elements in place, it is very important how consumers and the market in general will receive Windows 8.1 and Xbox One. Will they be successful enough to incline the balance in Microsoft's favor? Will these products bring back Microsoft to its former marketshare glory?

What about the aggressive integration of SkyDrive in Windows 8.1? Will it stir controversy and bring it into the attention of the European Union, which forced Microsoft to give users the option to uninstall Internet Explorer? It remains to be seen.

What's clear is that the true war of ecosystems will begin only as of 2014 onwards.The fight has just began, it is far from over and I'm really curious to learn the winners and losers. Whatever the result may be, one thing is for sure - the world of technology will change dramatically in the next few years and those four screens can quickly turn into 5 or more. Microsoft and other big companies will have to pay more attention to the important trends in technology and offer ever increasing, stronger ecosystems consisting of both devices and services.