This week at its annual Professional Developer's Conference, Microsoft formally launched its hosted software platform-Azure. When Microsoft first announced Azure, it basically sounded like a hosted database and storage service that developers could tie their applications to in an effort to streamline the costs of highly available and redundant storage. The announcements from this week come across much differently.
Microsoft has been late to the game in pretty much every aspect of the Internet. Bill Gates famously minimized the importance of an Internet platform or strategy years before Internet Explorer and the .NET development platform started to take hold while competitors from Netscape to Sun made waves. Microsoft Bing is finally showing some signs of life after several failed search and portal platforms, allowing more than ample time for Google to build its dominance. Even with the cloud, specialty companies like Salesforce.com and generic providers like Amazon and Rackspace have serious offerings in the market.
Yet I am here to tell you that not only is Microsoft doing it right, it is actually on the leading edge with its platform and blazing and entirely new path.
Microsoft is calling Azure the OS for the Cloud. When you think about it that way, it makes a lot of sense. Despite some missteps and mistakes along the way, the one area you have to admit Microsoft has always dominated is the operating system. It started on the desktop, moved to the server, and now it is moving into the cloud. While all the competition is giving you either a specific suite of applications (Google Apps, Salesforce.com) or component blocks (Amazon EC2), Microsoft Azure is at the heart a platform. Let Azure handle the provisioning and management, and you focus on building the application.
Sounds a lot like an operating system, don't you think? Plus, Azure doesn't care what programming languages you want to use. Everything from .NET to Java to Python is supported, which should go a long way toward encouraging true Enterprise adoption.
So while Azure on the surface seems like a radical new direction for Microsoft, the truth of the matter is that it's not. It's merely an extension of what it does best, taken to the next level. Is Azure Microsoft's next great product? Well that story still remains to be written, but it is blazing new paths and changing the software business yet again.