Fresh off the successful launch of its Windows 7 operating system, Microsoft is setting its sights on one of the hottest tech trends of the decade: cloud computing. The term typically refers to decentralized, data-intensive services, like e-mail, that run primarily on the internet instead of a hard drive. On Tuesday, Microsoft announced it was entering the fray with Windows Azure, a new, cloud-based platform for companies looking to develop applications for PCs, the web and mobile devices. Even though it doesn't officially launch until January, NASA and the AP have already signed on as partners, and blogging software Wordpress was unveiled as the first customer. Bloggers greeted Azure with rave early reviews, but noted that Microsoft was keeping some features close to the vest.

  • Bold Move Several outlets interpreted the launch of Azure as a revolutionary step forward for Microsoft. As Bill Rigby explains for Reuters: "This new approach -- giving developers a platform to write online applications, and renting out space in datacenters -- sounds like a radical departure for Microsoft, which has relied on selling packaged software for customers to install on their own machines for much of its growth." GigaOm's Stacey Higginbotham agrees that Azure is the beginning of a new phase in the company's development: "Microsoft isn't just selling software anymore; it's selling itself as a clearinghouse for information."
  • Return of the King At Daily Finance, Alex Salkever acknowledges that Microsoft is facing an uphill climb as Google and Amazon have already claimed lots of territory in the cloud computing market. Yet given the early success of Windows 7 and what he's seen of Azure, he is very optimistic about Microsoft's prospects: "It sure seems like Microsoft has gotten its mojo back; perhaps the worm has finally turned for the beaten-down Redmond giant...Microsoft could end up hitting on all cylinders, with its server and desktop software business lines benefiting from a big IT refresh in the next few years, and its efforts to tap the cloud -- and nail down customers like Automattic -- yielding both big revenues and a return to the spotlight as a serious growth machine with legs and a stock chart to match."
  • Now Comes The Hard Part ReadWriteWeb's Alex Williams explains that although Microsoft looks to have another stellar launch on its hands with Azure, the question remains whether or not it will be able to sustain the momentum. As he paraphrases: "When you launch a company, the feeling is awesome. In best cases, there are rave reviews. You feel elated. But then the moment passes and you are now in the desert where no one really cares about the launch anymore. You have to get across that desert to achieve success. For [Microsoft] - it's time for that walk into the wild. Welcome to the desert."
  • Taking it Slow Todd Bishop, writing for Seattle-based blog Tech Flash, contends that Microsoft is being tentative with its first iteration of Azure, not pushing it too hard on the marketplace, and argues this approach reflects an admirable pragmatism: "The Redmond company makes billions of dollars on traditional servers and databases. So even as it rolls out Azure to meet the growing demand for cloud computing, the company is still positioned to benefit if companies stick with in-house corporate systems. In that way, Azure to some extent represents a hedging of its bet." ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley seconds the notion, writing that Microsoft retracted some of its earlier, more ambitious designs for Azure: "It seems more the case that it has decided some of the original pieces didn't belong as part of the core Azure platform, such as Live Services, which are now part of Windows/Windows Live. In other cases, Microsoft has repackaged other elements of its original platform in different ways (example: the slimmed-down .Net Services is now part of AppFabric)."