Cloud computing is about services, but more specifically it is about self service. What people want more than anything from self service is speed and simplicity.

Do you remember the days when you walked into a shop and bought software by the box? How did you judge the software? Well, for starters the box needed to be nice and shiny. It needed to look good. And the box needed to be reasonably big, certainly bigger than the size of the CD-ROM that held the software. And it needed to be fairly heavy so that when you lifted it off the shelf you got the feeling that you were buying something weighty.

You didn't buy software like that? Well, millions of other people did. And software vendors knew it was important to have shiny, big, fairly heavy boxes if they wanted to sell lots of software. But let's say those kinds of things didn't impress you. What did?

The features. The complexity. All the things you didn't really need to do with the software but could if you really wanted at some distant point in the future. It was a nice feeling to be paying good money for such feature riches. The usability and simplicity of the software was not very high on the agenda.

With cloud computing and web-based services everything changes. The world of software design is turned upside down. The way the customer buys is radically transformed. The shift to service is a cultural shift. It is a shift to simplicity; to what I actually need right now rather than what I might need in the distant future. The service industry looks on things very differently from the product/software industry. This is a genuine revolution.

"Complexity kills," writes Ray Ozzie, who replaced Bill Gates as Microsoft's chief software architect in 2006 and is now leaving Microsoft. "Complexity sucks the life out of users, developers and IT. Complexity makes products difficult to plan, build, test and use. Complexity introduces security challenges. Complexity causes administrator frustration."

Learning Opportunities

In a self service world I have a task I need to complete right now, this moment. Can you help me complete this task quickly and easily and at a good price? Okay. Good. No, don't sell me the other stuff. Not at least until I've actually completed this task quickly and easily. If I have a good experience I may take more from you. I'm just investing a little of my money and time right now. If you don't deliver on your promise, I'm gone.

Product customers are much more locked in. They've invested in that big box. Self service customers are much freer. They often want a free trial of the service before they'll even consider buying it.

Ray Ozzie believes that Microsoft rising to the huge opportunities of the self service world "will require innovation in user experience, interaction model, authentication model, user data and privacy model, policy and management model, programming and application model, and so on."

Isn't it interesting that he puts user experience first on the list and programming last? This is the time for those focused on the customer, those who enjoy serving; whose goal it is to make other people's lives simpler and easier.