Almost a month ago, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer started talking about something he nicknamed "Windows Cloud." While he was short on details, he did reveal that the product would essentially work as an operating system for cloud-computing applications.
Today, Microsoft has officially unveiled the software—and it's picked Windows Azure as the final marketing name. According to the official website, Windows Azure is "a cloud services operating system that serves as the development, service hosting and service management environment for the Azure Services Platform." The Azure Services Platform includes the following components:
Windows Azure for service hosting and management, low-level scalable storage, computation and networking Microsoft SQL Services for a wide range of database services and reporting Microsoft .NET Services which are service-based implementations of familiar .NET Framework concepts such as workflow and access control Live Services for a consistent way for users to store, share and synchronize documents, photos, files and information across their PCs, phones, PC applications and Web sites Microsoft SharePoint Services and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Services for business content, collaboration and rapid solution development in the cloud
Confused? Just have a look at this diagram:
Still confused? Well, we don't blame you. The important thing is that Azure should let developers write cloud-computing apps using both Microsoft and third-party tools, and it will let those developers tap into the computing and storage resources of Microsoft's data centers. More importantly, Microsoft notes that Azure will use "a common set of programming languages, runtimes and frameworks" that can work in web browsers, on PCs, and on cell phones. That should let firms easily couple traditional software with cloud-based services—a combination Microsoft calls "software plus services," contrasting with the "software as a service" scheme companies like Google are pursuing.
If you're interested, you can grab demos, videos, development toolkits, and other resources from this page on the Azure Services Platform website. Microsoft says it released an Azure community technology preview to attendees of the PDC2008 conference, too.