Microsoft this week is hosting its platforms-oriented developer show, Professional Developer Conference (PDC) 2008. And as has been the case at these shows in years past, the software giant unleashed a major new platform, one that is forward looking and, frankly, a bit scary. But PDC 2008 isn't just about this cloud computing platform. There's plenty of other news at the show, including the first peeks at Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, and Office 14.

The big news, however, is Windows Azure, Microsoft's new cloud computing platform. If the phrase cloud computing makes you nervous, then consider this: It's really just a new type of Windows Server that is hosted on Microsoft, and in the future, third-party datacenters. It runs familiar server applications--excuse, me services--like SQL Services and SharePoint Services. From a development and management perspective, Windows Azure really is Windows.

Windows Azure is still scary, but not because of its cloud-computing heritage. What Microsoft is really doing here is moving to a subscription-based services model, one that will potentially have devastating effects on its partners. This is similar to Microsoft Online Services (MOS), where Microsoft is hosting its server apps like Exchange Server directly for customers, bypassing its traditional partner channel. With Windows Azure, Microsoft is essentially extending this model to all of its enterprise offerings over time.

Settling into more familiar territory, Windows Server 2008 R2 is the "release 2" update to Server 2008. It will bring major advances to Hyper-V--including live migration, hot add and remove storage, and V2P hosting of virtual hard disks (VHDs)--a remotable Server Manager (finally), PowerShell 2.0 and a PowerShell-based Active Directory (AD) management console called Active Directory Administration Center, major improvements to IIS 7, and various Windows 7 integration pieces. Server 08 R2 will be 64-bit only.

The big news with Server 08 R2 is that it will actually break the compatibility model with Server 08 due to the architectural changes Microsoft is making. I think that's OK, frankly, given the audience and the quality of the changes it's implementing. Microsoft is saying to expect R2 in early 2010, but I'm hearing it could happen earlier than that.

As for Windows 7, you may be disappointed to hear that the vast majority of new features in this release are consumer-oriented and involve user experience improvements, many of which are quite nice, actually. For businesses, Windows 7 will support Bitlocker on removable devices (Bitlocker To Go) and a feature called Direct Access that uses Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) to transport network traffic over Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), using port 443, like HTTPS. It's essentially a no-configuration VPN, and my expectation is that it will eventually cause a dramatic simplification in enterprise network design. For end users, Windows 7 provides search federation functionality that makes it possible to easily search network-based document repositories (including SharePoint) directly with Windows Search.

As I write this, I've not yet been briefed about the next Office, and there are other developments afoot regarding the "Oslo" modeling language, future versions of Visual Studio and other development platforms. I'll have more about PDC 2008 next week, and I'll be looking into the technologies discussed above in the weeks and months ahead as well.