'Live Clipboard' Is Coming

'Live Clipboard' Is Coming Chief technical officer Ray Ozzie has only been at Microsoft a year but he has already started making an important impact on the company's technology directions, especially in the area of the software giant's online services play.

Now, he and a small team of developers have pioneered a new technology aimed at letting end-users cut and paste live information objects they find on the Web onto their own pages -- using what he has dubbed "Live Clipboard."

The main aim is to enable users and developers to do what is termed "mashups," where users construct pages or even full-blown applications on an ad hoc basis. Developers can increasingly do that using tools like Microsoft's coming "Atlas" programming extensions to support asynchronous JavaScript and XML -- so-called AJAX technologies -- or even hardcore development languages like C#.

Live Clipboard uses a simple metaphor, the Windows Clipboard, to let users copy and paste live information -- for example, another user's calendar -- from one site to another without losing the link to its data source. The clipboard uses Really Simple Syndication (RSS) to handle data feeds.

"Live Clipboard [is] an analogy to what we've done between applications on the PC now working between Web sites," Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates told attendees at its Mix06 conference for Web developers and designers in Las Vegas in March.

"Whether it's programmatic or the user being able to take pieces and combine them, this idea of modularity, Web sites being able to specialize in something and then being able to connect and get together in a rich way, that's a powerful idea whose time has come, and we're just really at the very beginning of taking advantage of that," Gates added.

In fact, from just a figment of his imagination in early March, Ozzie and his team have already built a working public demonstration and laid out a nearly complete first draft specification.

"The shift from monolithic toward composite applications has progressively become a reality in the enterprise, as we turn data center-based systems into a programmatic "mesh," Ozzie said on his blog in early March.

Ozzie, the co-creator of Lotus Notes, forged a milestone strategic memo at Microsoft on the topic of online software as services last fall and their "disruptive" impact on the status quo. (See "Leaked Memos Point to a 'Disrupted' Microsoft," November 9, 2005.)

"Businesses are increasingly considering what services-based economics of scale might do to help them reduce infrastructure costs or deploy solutions as-needed and on subscription basis," Ozzie's memo said.

A week earlier, Ozzie and Gates introduced the company's revamped online services products unified under the emerging Windows Live brand.

While Microsoft's Live services such as Office Live so far have targeted consumers and owners of small businesses (under ten employees), the company has gone out of its way to signal it will go wherever the services breadcrumb trail leads them. And as more enterprise customers look at alternatives to expensive up-front contracts, the company has indicated it will square off against services competitors like

For instance, at the end of last month, Microsoft debuted its rebranded Exchange Hosted Services, which it acquired when it bought out FrontBridge Technologies last summer. (See "Microsoft Closes Deal to Buy FrontBridge," August 31, 2005.)

The moves are all part of Ozzie and Gates' larger plan to keep the company viable as the "always-on," ubiquitous Web and online application models continue to evolve towards what Gates calls "the programmable Web" and what some other industry players refer to as Web 2.0. Ozzie, meanwhile, uses the more direct term "composite applications."

Just as Gates famous "Internet Tidal Wave" memo a decade earlier called the alarm to Microsofties, Ozzie's memo in November was meant to motivate the troops towards the company's emerging services initiatives.

The visibility that Gates, Ozzie, and Microsoft have given a brand new technology like Live Clipboard appears to signal its importance as the glue to stick "the programmable Web" and software as services together.

Ray Ozzie's blog can be found here. An introduction to Live Clipboard can be found here. A working clipboard demo is located here.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.