At the Professional Developers Conference 2008, held at the end of October 2008, Microsoft unveiled Windows Azure, its new cloud platform. I was there, and got the impression that this is a big deal for Microsoft; arguably the future of the company depends on it. It is likely that the industry will reduce its use of on-premise servers in favour of hosted applications, and if Microsoft is to preserve its overall market share it needs a credible cloud platform.
That was nearly two months ago. What’s been the developer reaction, and how is it going with the early tech previews made available at PDC? It’s hard to tell; but there is less public activity than I expected. On the official Azure forums there are just 550 messages at the time of writing; and glancing through them shows that many of them are from people simply having difficulty signing up. One of the problems is that access to the preview is limited by developer tokens of various types, and although Microsoft gave the impression at PDC that all attendees would have these, that has not really been the case. Those who attended hands-on labs at PDC got tokens there; others have had to apply and wait like everyone else. Part of the reason for lack of activity may just be that not many have been able to get in.
There are other issues too. I’ve spent some time trying out Live Framework and building applications for Live Mesh. I’ve written this up separately, in a piece that will be posted shortly. However, I found it harder than I expected to get good information on how to proceed. There is plenty of high-level marketing, but hands-on documentation is lacking. Azure may be different – though I was interested to find another user with similar frustrations (it’s worth reading this thread, as Microsoft’s moderator Yi-Lun Luo gives a handy technical outline of Azure and Live Services).
Still, let’s bear in mind that PDC is where Microsoft shares early technical information about the Windows platform, which is subject to change. Anyone who built applications for the preview Windows Longhorn code doled out at PDC 2003 (Paul Thurrott’s report is a reminder of what it felt like at the time) would have been in for some disappointment – Longhorn was both greatly delayed and much altered for its eventual release as Windows Vista.
It’s possible then that most developers are wisely waiting for the beta of Azure before doing serious experimentation. Alternatively – the bleakest outcome for Microsoft – they are ignoring Azure and presuming that if and when they do migrate applications to the cloud they will use some other platform.
Nevertheless, I’d suggest that Microsoft’s evangelism of Azure has been poor since PDC. There is more buzz about other things presented there – including Windows 7, which in contrast to Azure seems nearly done.
Matt Rogers from Microsoft comments below that the service is not going to change radically between now and general release. He claims that feedback is extensive, but not evident in the online forums because it comes from other sources – he told me on Twitter that “we are getting much of it directly through relationships with customers, local user group meetings and through our evangelists”.
Maarten Balliauw has converted an application to Azure and written up the experience on his blog. He is using Azure TableStorage for data and Live ID for authentication. He says:
Overall, Microsoft is doing a good job with Azure. The platform itself seems reliable and stable, the concept is good.
Unfortunately the app itself does not work at the time of writing.