Microsoft gave some of the clearest examples yet on Thursday of its vision for software plus services.
"This services transformation, from software to software plus services, is a very very big deal for our company," said Ray Ozzie, chief software architect for Microsoft, speaking at the company's annual financial analyst meeting. "It will be a critical aspect of all our offerings over the next years."
Software plus services in Windows could include a services component that might store device settings, he said. That service would make it easier for users to access the same application from various devices or buy new devices without having to create new settings.
Office customers might use hosted services, such as publishing, sharing and editing, in conjunction with Office applications, he said.
If Microsoft has had trouble articulating its software-plus-service vision in the past, it has now better described how it will enable that goal.
The company is currently working feverishly to build a hardware and software platform that will support its services vision across every one of its software products, Ozzie said.
This year, Microsoft is concentrating on building this services framework. In the next year to year-and-a-half, the company will begin introducing new and key components of the platform, he said.
At the very bottom level of this services framework are Microsoft's massive data centres and the networks that connect them to the web. The company has more than doubled the size of its data centres over the past year, said Ozzie.
Above that level is what Ozzie said was the most fundamental layer, including a utility computing fabric made up of a virtualised computation layer, infrastructure that manages load balancing of applications and horizontally supported storage.
The platform will also include a services layer that can be shared across applications. Such services include user identity services, presence information and contact lists.
This platform will be used internally by Microsoft to support its own services, such as Windows Live, but partners will be able to use it to support their applications that work in conjunction with Microsoft products as well, Ozzie said.
The platform will also support enterprise applications and be part of an offer from Microsoft that allows companies to choose among several service models. "This choice is a substantial differentiator" for Microsoft, he said.
Companies may decide to buy Microsoft servers, which would offer them the ultimate in customisation, control and compliance, he said. Enterprises could instead hire third party companies that might have a unique expertise in a particular area to host a service for them. Finally, an enterprise could use hosted services directly from Microsoft, which recently began discussing its hosted services aspirations.
Microsoft isn't alone in moving toward a services business and other companies are already offering some types of hosted services that Ozzie described. Google, for example, already offers many hosted services aimed at consumers and enterprise users. The search giant, however, has come under fire for failing to offer enterprise customers the type of support they are used to.