As expected, Microsoft launched its forthcoming cloud computing platform, Windows Azure, on the opening day of its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2009 event in Los Angeles. The service will transition from its current "community technical preview" state to a feature-complete, final version on January 1, 2010, the software giant said. But customers won't be billed until February, so they can determine what the costs will be during the preceding month.

"Customers want choice and flexibility in how they develop and deploy applications," Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie said. "We're moving into an era of solutions that are experienced by users across PCs, phones, and the web, and that are delivered from datacenters we refer to as private clouds and public clouds. Built specifically for this era of cloud computing, Windows Azure and SQL Azure will give developers what they need to build great applications and profitable businesses."

The Windows Azure cloud computing platform extends Windows Server into the hosted services space, providing developers with a way to create applications and services that run in the cloud instead of in on-premise servers. This provides a more reliable and cost-effective platform in many scenarios, Microsoft says, and represents a major shift in the way that businesses and consumers utilize computing resources.

The Windows Azure launch was announced during a keynote address on the first day of the PDC. This keynote was cloud-computing-heavy and included several new announcements related to Windows Azure. Among them are a new information service, code-named "Dallas," that provides access to premium commercial and reference data sets and content from providers such as the Associated Press, NASA, and the United Nations; an online marketplace for partner applications called PinPoint; and Windows Server AppFabric (currently in beta), which helps developers manage and deploy applications that span from local Windows Servers to the cloud.

While Tuesday's keynote was largely about cloud computing, Microsoft promises some desktop-related news on Wednesday. In addition to a push for Windows 7 technologies and the Office 2010 public beta, the software giant is expected to show off an early version of Internet Explorer (IE) 9, the next version of its web browser.

For ongoing live coverage from the show, please stay tuned to the SuperSite for Windows throughout the week.