Microsoft has unveiled its much-anticipated cloud computing platform, dubbed Windows Azure. Speaking at the company's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie described Azure as a highly scalable "cloud services operating system" intended for developers to build and deploy cross-platform applications, all while helping them reduce the effort and costs of IT management.

The announcement was not unexpected, and officially puts Microsoft in competition with other providers of Internet storage and computing services such as Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) - which Ozzie credited for innovations in the hosted computing model but noted it had narrower and different objectives than Azure.

The new service is an integral part of Microsoft's transformation strategy which sees the company lessening its emphasis on desktop software and shifting more resources to web-based offerings. According to them, Azure only offers a fraction of its envisioned capability today and will get better over time. Current components include SQL Services, .NET services, Live Services, SharePoint Services, and the Dynamics CRM Services. You can read more details on Azure here.