Years from now, we'll most likely all look and remember this week as one that changed everything.

As someone who follows Microsoft technology, there isn’t a more exciting time than the week of the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC), a special event reserved by Microsoft for announcing and introducing new technologies incubating in R&D. Each PDC brings with it a myriad of new code names, acronyms, and new bits representing countless hours of Microsoft research and development. PDC is extremely important for Microsoft as a company because it acts as a forcing function for the various product teams to deliver something real and for everyone to converge around a core strategy. It's also important to the Microsoft community because it plants numerous seeds for future business opportunities.

Some PDC events are more significant than others, and some are flat-out transformational for the Microsoft development community. One significantly transformational PDC happened over a decade ago when Microsoft first announced Windows NT, a cost-effective server OS for small businesses that opened up an entirely new realm of possibilities for small to medium size companies. The PDC in 2000 marked another transformational moment with the introduction of .NET, a shift that greatly lowered the bar for Windows software development.

I'm attending PDC 2008 this week and this indeed feels like a transformational moment. The major new announcement this week was Windows Azure within Ray Ozzie's opening keynote.


Windows Azure is Microsoft's new comprehensive cloud computing platform. It consists of a virtualized cloud environment, foundational services, layered services that provide the basic building blocks for an entire new breed of applications. The reason Windows Azure is significant is because it opens the doors to the unexpected…it's the entrepreneur's dream…a wonderland for Microsoft's ISV community. Microsoft has always focused on the ISV market as a core business strategy, however, in recent years the overall platform offering has become somewhat stagnant in terms of new business opportunities it has made possible. Windows Azure is a whole new world from that perspective.

I actually feel like buying Microsoft stock again.

Amazon, Salesforce, and Google are the current major players in this space but Amazon is the current King of cloud computing. Amazon has been the leader in breaking new ground — Ray Ozzie even tipped his hat and called them "visionary" — through their S3, EC2, and other cloud services. However, Microsoft is in a strong position to do what they always do: make something better and more cost-effective for the masses.

Windows Azure has the potential to be more compelling than any of these offerings because it will provide a more comprehensive development platform and a developer-friendly experience through the .NET and Visual Studio. Microsoft wants to make cloud development as easy as writing any other .NET app (even with F5 debugging support), and if successful, that fact will allow millions of .NET developers to apply their skills to this new domain, a unique feather in Microsoft's cap. And the net effect should be far simpler and more productive experience than anything the other vendors could possibly offer. All in all, cloud computing is a perfect fit for Microsoft as a company from both a technical and strategic perspective.

This all assumes, of course, that Windows Azure is just as price competitive and technically solid as the competitive offerings. As long as it is, Microsoft is in a strong position to move their entire business model in this direction in a serious way. You definitely get the sense at PDC this week that every Microsoft product unit is looking seriously at how to use the cloud, and services in general, to extend their on-premise software offerings. This is what Microsoft calls their software + services strategy.

Even products like Microsoft Office, SharePoint, and Dynamics are moving in this direction. Today they announced that the common Office apps like Word, Excel, One Note, and PowerPoint will be available in the cloud, representing a huge shift in strategy for that particular product. If services can add value to a product, it's probably in the works. Microsoft's software + services strategy is company-wide.

The reason I believe the cloud is going to be big is because the pointy-haired guys "get it". In general, it's not hard for the business to understand the value proposition of the model from an IT perspective. As a result, the business value alone will push adoption in this direction, especially for small to medium size companies. And I believe once Microsoft makes it easy, it will begin to take off like wildfire for the scenarios that make sense.

There are definitely some trust concerns, specifically around sensitive data, and that may be a prohibiting factor for some business apps to ever move to the cloud. And it will also be harder for large and complex enterprise scenarios where geo/political/regulatory issues come into play. However, that's where Microsoft's on-premise strategy remains strong but now it's loaded with interesting new potential.

It's an exciting time to be a Microsoft developer. A new era of software development has just begun.