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The next time you buy a computer, it might not even be shipped with an operating system.

The next version of the Windows operating system — for both consumers and businesses — might be an operating system that is stored and powered on remote cloud servers and streamed to personal computers, according to leaked information from Microsoft’s architectural summit held in London in April.

Cloud computing allows computers and mobile devices to ship all the resource-intensive data crunching off to beefy remote servers run by companies like Rackspace and Amazon. Tools ranging from facial recognition to collaboration software like Yammer and Huddle are already making strong pushes into the cloud.

Desktop virtualization, which involves storing and running a user’s operating system and programs on more powerful remote servers and streaming the results to a PC, is not a particularly new idea either. It’s a practice that many businesses already employ to allow their employees to access a personalized desktop and access work information from any device. Windows 7 already offers virtualization of a user’s settings and applications. Microsoft also recently brought all of its Office applications into the cloud and offers the programs as part of its Windows Live service.


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The next version of Windows would strip the operating system from the actual piece of hardware a user is working on and stream it through the Internet, according to the presentation. But this wouldn’t just be a play from Microsoft in the business space. This would be the first high-profile move into expanding use of cloud technology into the consumer space. The move could finally make buzzwords like “software-as-a-service” and “cloud infrastructure” sexy the same way Apple turned around the mobile phone market — a very explicit goal on Microsoft’s end, according to the slides.

Does this mean the next wave of operating systems will run on subscription fees, like many other cloud services already use? It makes sense until you pull the ethernet cable out of the PC or run into a dead spot in terms of wireless coverage. The operating system is just about the last thing that doesn’t require a computer connected to the internet at this point.

But most tech gurus don’t foresee that being a problem as wireless networks expand and technology marches onward. Tech evangelists ranging from investing titan Marc Andreessen to Google’s Eric Schmidt have repeatedly called to bring everything into the cloud. Schmidt particularly heralded the next rollout of wireless technology, the LTE network, as a significant step toward an always-connected planet.

The tech world is all for finally making the cloud as sexy as Apple’s next gadget. And what a world we live in if Microsoft, traditionally the black sheep of operating systems and web browsers, is the company to finally pull it off.

[Photo: mendhak]

VB WebinarsDon’t miss VentureBeat’s first live webinar — “Demystifying the Business Cloud” — on Nov. 17 at 11 am Pacific Time. Join VentureBeat Founder & Editor-in-Chief Matt Marshall and Huddle Co-Founder Andy McLoughlin for an in-depth discussion about migrating core business processes to the cloud. Sign up for free now. This webinar is part of a series co-hosted by Huddle, an innovative online-collaboration startup based in the UK and San Francisco.

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