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Summary:

The most striking thing about the Meet Azure launch event was how far Microsoft went to paint Windows Azure as, well not very Windows like. Open source oriented technologies — MySQL, WordPress, Ubuntu, CentOS were all highlighted. That’s not very Windows like.

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For someone who’s watched Microsoft on and off for more than 20 years, today’s Meet Azure event was eye-opening, even though much of the content had been telegraphed, leaked and covered well in advance.

Most striking was that the company bent over backward to not portray Windows Azure as, well, Windows-like. The list of companies mentioned on stage as Azure partners was impressive, even to a cynic. Rightscale CEO Michael Crandell had a key role today. Microsoft showed MySQL (now owned by Oracle!) running on Azure. WordPress (see disclosure) running on Azure. Ubuntu, CentOS running on Azure. Python. PHP. The list goes on.

Who IS this company?  Microsoft by necessity has been moving down this path for years, but this was the strongest-ever manifestation of that new world view. There’s nothing like a big, strong competitor to enforce good behavior.

All the announced Azure services are backed by a monthly service license agreement (SLA) and all the SDKs are available on Github under an open-source license. All the APIs are exposed through REST, Microsoft corporate vice president Scott Guthrie said.

Cloud, Amazon force a kinder, gentler Microsoft

All of this means a couple of things. First, two years into Azure, it’s obvious even to Microsoft that it’s not top of mind when it comes to the cloud. That in this new era, the Windows brand is not necessarily a draw. And that the company needs to woo the thousands of web developers who are not enamored of .NET.

A developer who left Microsoft last year said he’s sure the company has found religion. For real.

“The directive before I left was that you, as a Microsoft product person, had to support non-Windows frameworks and platforms. If you didn’t support PHP, Node etc., in your offerings, then you were not considered a complete solution,”  he said. That was certainly a huge change from when he joined the company nearly a decade before. He declined to be named because he still does work with Microsoft.

Looming in the background here is cloud leader Amazon, which has been able to recruit developers en masse to use its inexpensive cloud infrastructure. To compete with Amazon EC2, Microsoft has to offer solid services and offer them cheap.  All new Azure services will be free for 90 days and then pricing by all accounts will be “extremely aggressive,” said one partner who’s taken a look at the plan.  The Azure price calculator is up, but a true analysis of myriad Azure options vs. AWS options will take time.

Before things get too nutty, let’s remember that Amazon is not standing still. As Microsoft adds the persistent Linux VMs and other infrastructure-as-a-service perks, Amazon adds more services to its stable by the week. It even launched a partner program and a big-time Las Vegas developer conference. Microsoft has fielded a partner program and developer shows for decades.

These companies are on a collision course and both realize they need allies among developers and technology partners. Complicating matters is this won’t be a two-man fight: Hewlett-Packard and Oracle both hosted their own cloud events this week. Don’t for a minute think that they’re not focused on Amazon as well.

Disclosure: Automattic, maker of WordPress.com, is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, GigaOm. Om Malik, founder of GigaOm, is also a venture partner at True.

 Feature photo courtesy of Flicker user Carlos Gutiérrez G.

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  1. Aidan Black Friday, June 8, 2012

    This is indeed impressive, but I am not sure that the move to embrace other platforms is entirely because of Amazon. If you have been watching Scott Guthrie for a while you see a pattern – he did a similar thing with the ASP.NET team, and now jQuery and JSON.NET among others are first-class citizens in .NET web development.

    1. i agree aidan… most people put it in the Microsoft vs. google or vs. apple context but amazon is such a huge factor now. Also, you’re right on Scott’s past — it’s all part of the bigger picture –But i think one reason the tools strategy was broad-based was becuase of Java/eclipse competition. net, net, net Competition definitely makes Microsoft a better company.

      1. I agree with Barb on the net net net. Amazon has clearly contributed measurably and substantially to the net. I’m sure the folks in Redmond also didn’t appreciate it when Paul Graham penned one of his classic essays “Microsoft Is Dead” in 2007! A big bonus with Microsoft refusing to “die” per se, is that Amazon’s AWS can not so easily walk around as if they’re the bomb (the last thing we need is corporate hubris from Bezos and company). The competition is wonderful, and the world should be celebrating (yes, the Microsoft of Bill Gates era is “dead” per Graham, but Azure is a living entity that could thrive in ways that even Graham didn’t predict in 2007)! Now let’s sit back and enjoy the show!

    2. You’re on point. Scott d Gu’s a great dude to watch! He’s quite impressive, you know.

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