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Can Microsoft move Windows to the cloud?

Image: Alone Forever / Protocol
Can Microsoft move Windows to the cloud?
Microsoft cloud

Good morning! This Tuesday, Microsoft is staffing up a Cloud PC team, drivers are suing Uber for access to its algorithm, and the tax battle that tech companies are afraid of.

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People Are Talking

On Protocol: The simple thing is no longer always the best thing for customers, Opendoor CTO Ian Wong said:

  • "What we've seen is that customers not only crave convenience now; they also really want assurance that it is safe."

Mark Zuckerberg said … I mean, exactly what you would say if you did have a secret deal with Donald Trump:

  • "I've heard this speculation, too, so let me be clear: There's no deal of any kind. Actually, the whole idea of a deal is pretty ridiculous."
  • (I would point out, by the way, that "having a deal" is not the same as "it's really useful for both sides to let Trump do whatever he wants.")

TikTok continues to shout itself hoarse about not being connected to the Chinese government. This time it's Theo Bertram, head of policy in Europe:

  • "The suggestion that we are in any way under the thumb of the Chinese government is completely and utterly false."

The Big Story

The future of Windows might be cloud Windows

There seem to be two types of Microsoft employees: the ones who show up to every brainstorming meeting saying "what if we just had 45 more versions of Windows" and the ones who show up saying "THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE WINDOWS." Which side is winning seems to depend on ... the month? Which way the wind is blowing? Hard to say.

Anyway, the next confusingly different version of Windows is Windows 10X, which is due next spring. And at the same time, as ZDNet discovered, Microsoft is also hiring a program manager for a "Cloud PC" team.

  • The job description says that "Microsoft Cloud PC is a strategic, new offering that is built on top of Windows Virtual Desktop to delivering Desktop as a Service."
  • Cloud PC would be part of Microsoft's everything bundle, Microsoft 365. Instead of paying a monthly fee for Office apps, you'd pay it for the entire Windows experience.
  • Microsoft Virtual Desktop runs on Azure cloud services, so it seems logical that this would too.

Streaming your device from the cloud has so far mostly been for gamers. But the idea's particularly compelling in a business setting: Cloud-based services are so much easier to manage and provision, and suddenly employees can access their work computer from any screen they own without causing security holes.

  • This isn't the only hint that Microsoft's working on stream-puters, by the way. As Janko Roettgers wrote last week, even the xCloud gaming program is more about Azure than Xbox.
  • It's also not hard to imagine, say, Google Stadia birthing a stream-a-Chromebook feature, or Apple streaming your Mac to your iPhone.
  • One good example of how it might work is Shadow, which already lets you stream a full-fledged Windows PC to lots of other devices. The system's finicky, though, and Microsoft itself could surely simplify things.

It might sound like a huge change, having your whole device in the cloud, but have you tried working without an internet connection? Offline, my MacBook is basically just a calculator and a bunch of screenshots. We're already most of the way to a cloud-PC world.

The big problem Microsoft faces in taking the final steps toward this vision is that cloud computers sit somewhere in the Venn diagram of 5G and cloud services and unlimited data and Everything-as-a-Service. Which is to say: They'll work great if a bunch of other things make huge leaps forward. Timing will play a huge part in the success of Cloud PC.

Trade War

IBM doesn't want to get dragged into Big Tech's fight

Protocol's Shakeel Hashim writes: You know the last thing we need right now? Another trade war. But one might be brewing between the U.S. and Europe — with tech potentially caught in the middle.

  • Quick refresher: Some countries want to impose digital services taxes on Big Tech companies, to target alleged unfairness in the way they generate revenues, but not taxes, outside their home country.
  • The nature of the tech industry means those companies tend to be American. So the U.S. has pushed back and pulled out of OECD negotiations about global tax reform.
  • But some countries, including France and the U.K., have said they'll unilaterally impose the taxes instead. Against France at least, the U.S. has retaliated with tariffs.

Christopher Padilla, IBM's VP of government and regulatory affairs, told me that the company fears a "tit-for-tat" trade war, where the EU retaliates with measures that target the entire tech industry — catching companies such as IBM in the crossfire.

  • "What we know we don't want or need ... [is] yet another transatlantic trade war with a lot of innocent bystanders getting harmed," Padilla said. The tax dispute concerns just "five or six large internet platforms," he added, but a broader trade war could hit the entire industry.

IBM has urged the U.S. to not retaliate, and asked the administration to reengage with the OECD. European countries have asked for the same. Antony Phillipson, the U.K.'s trade commissioner for North America, told me he's "frustrated that more progress hasn't been made in the OECD."

But so far, the U.S. has shown no signs engaging, seemingly hoping that Europe will back down. That might work: Britain, for one, desperately needs a U.S. trade deal thanks to Brexit. When asked if the U.K. would scrap the tax if the U.S. made that a condition of the trade deal, Phillipson said, "let's deal with that if and when we get there."

  • November's election could change things, though. Padilla thinks Biden's advisors are "not big fans of unilateral tariffs."

For now, the tech industry is in limbo: France and the U.K. won't collect taxes this year; retaliatory American tariffs are on hold until 2021 too. Padilla said he hopes this is a "temporary armistice, until we see what happens with the political lineup on both sides of the Atlantic." November could bring some clarity.

A MESSAGE FROM ALIXPARTNERS

AlixPartners

Join us on July 30 at noon EDT for a conversation on why there's no "digital" in transformation. Protocol's transformation editor Mike Murphy will dive into specific industry case studies — some that were born digital, others that have moved there — and discuss how companies are managing transformation initiatives. Speakers to be announced. This conversation is presented by AlixPartners.

RSVP today.

Gig Economy

Algorithms are the boss, and employees have questions

Apps like Uber and DoorDash are black boxes by design. The companies hope drivers, riders, workers and orderers alike generally decide to not sweat the details and just open the app, hit a button and let the code do its thing.

But Uber drivers are starting to question the algorithms. A group of drivers in the U.K., backed by multiple unions, is suing Uber in the hope of gaining greater transparency over how its systems work.

  • In their complaint, the drivers say that Uber's algorithms consider things like late arrivals, behavioral issues and cancellation rates as it assigns and controls their work. Drivers want much more information about how Uber's systems make decisions, so that they can bargain with the company more effectively.
  • They also want to find out whether Uber's system is discriminatory, and say that to find out they need "access to the calculation of their rating in the Uber Driver App, the variance over time and the variance with respect to others."

The big worry for Uber: having to share its algorithm with the world. The company is being challenged on GDPR grounds, and the regulations say that anytime an algorithm makes binding decisions, for things like hiring or visa applications, those affected can access a copy of the data and decision-making process. But Uber's system is a closely guarded secret, and the company has a long history of tweaking its tools to suit its goals. Now, all of that could be made very public.

Making Moves

Marc Levoy is now a VP and fellow at Adobe. He spent the last five-plus years as one of the minds behind Google's excellent Pixel cameras. At Adobe, he'll be building "a universal camera app," which makes sense given Adobe's push into mobile apps and camera tech. Hard to imagine a better hire for the project.

Severan Rault is the new CTO at Gojek, the Indian ride-hailing star. He was previously an engineering chief at the company, and before that was at Amazon working on Prime Air.

The rapper Logic became a Twitch streamer, signing a seven-figure deal. Twitch has been trying to bring musicians into the streamer landscape, and Logic, otherwise known as Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, is a pretty big name in the space.

In Other News

  • If you're looking for more GPT-3 info, here's a good read. It makes a crucial point: GPT-3 is a good "few-shot learner," meaning it often gets things right the first time, which is rare in current AI. (But see also: OpenAI CEO Sam Altman reminded everyone that the software has "serious weaknesses and sometimes makes very silly mistakes.")
  • Two big eBay moves worth watching: It sold its classifieds business to the Norwegian company Adevinta for $9.2 billion, and it's ending its agreement with PayPal in favor of running its own payment platform.
  • Don't miss Wired's story on Citizen, the real-time safety alerts app, and the power users that flock to crime scenes to report on them — including one 12 year old kid.
  • Elizabeth Holmes' trial will likely be delayed due to COVID, with a 2021 date looking likely. If only there was a magical product that could blood test the entire population every day to end the pandemic!
  • Elon Musk and Alex Berenson considered starting a news outlet, according to The New York Times. Musk said "there's room for a fiercely nonpartisan news company."
  • Ant Financial is planning a dual listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai, which will reportedly value the payments company at more than $200 billion.
  • Turns out TikTok might still move to London. CNBC reported that political concerns haven't interfered with talks to place its global HQ in Britain — though no decision's been made yet.
  • From Protocol: The Twitter hack has inspired tech companies to rethink their security, with identity and access top of the list.
  • China is reportedly considering export controls on Nokia and Ericsson, which would stop them taking made-in-China tech out the country. In response, Nokia is said to have started reviewing its supply chain.
  • The House antitrust subcommittee interviewed Brad Smith ahead of next week's hearing, according to The Information. The Microsoft president reportedly discussed his concerns about the App Store, as well as Microsoft's previous antitrust experience.

One More Thing

The most important release date in the movie biz

"Tenet" was supposed to be released this past weekend. Then it was going to be July 31, because apparently two weeks was going to fix COVID. Then it was going to be Aug. 12, and now it's off the release calendar entirely. Warner Bros. is also reportedly changing the film's rollout plan, too, which could mean the movie comes out in other countries before hitting U.S. theaters. (No spoilers!) Sure, this is just one movie, but it's a bellwether for the movie industry, and a mark of when and whether people are comfortable going back to theaters. And yikes, can you imagine if the movie's terrible? Christopher Nolan better hope "Tenet" is much more "Inception" than "Interstellar," is all I'm saying.

A MESSAGE FROM ALIXPARTNERS

AlixPartners

Join us on July 30 at noon EDT for a conversation on why there's no "digital" in transformation. Protocol's transformation editor Mike Murphy will dive into specific industry case studies — some that were born digital, others that have moved there — and discuss how companies are managing transformation initiatives. Speakers to be announced. This conversation is presented by AlixPartners.

RSVP today.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

Update: This article has been updated to better characterize Antony Phillipson's response about pulling the U.K.'s digital services tax.

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