Microsoft may not be first to the cloud, but they are making every effort to become the best option. It certainly helps that companies like Automattic are plugging Windows Azure (news, site).

At the Microsoft PDC 2009 Conference, Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, announced that Windows Azure will officially go into production on January 1, 2010.

During his keynote he had a little help plugging Azure from people like WordPress founder and Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg. And although Mullenweg was there, the company did not announce it was moving distributed hosting of WordPress to Azure.

If you think about it, you can see why Microsoft would want a proponent of open source there. The company has been making good strides to interoperate with open source technologies like PHP and IDE (Eclipse).

Azure App and Content Marketplaces

To support Windows Azure, a marketplace has been launched called PinPoint.com. PinPoint allows you to easily find experts, applications and professional services to help you with your Microsoft applications. Similar to Salesforce's AppExchange and Apple's iPhone App store combined, it's currently largest directory of IT companies and their software.

In addition to PinPoint.com, there's also Dallas (codename), an information marketplace, part of Azure, designed to provide developers with content, including data, imagery, and real-time web services, from third party providers through clean, consistent APIs. Dallas, which will be available through PinPoint, is currently in CTP.

A Common Developer Platform

Microsoft also spoke about their "next generation application model" which is designed to bring together server and cloud services development into a single platform. Key to this is the Windows Server AppFabric Beta 1, a set of integrated application services that can be used to create applications that span both the server and the cloud.

AppFabric is a combination of hosting and caching capabilities, encompassing what was previously known as Dublin and Velocity (more codenames). AppFabric includes both a Service Bus and Access Control (formerly called .NET Services). Confused yet? You can download the AppFabric beta now.

ASP.NET MVC 2 beta

And finally -- although there's a lot more that was announced -- ASP.NET MVC 2 beta was released. Included in the beta are tools for Visual Studio 2008 SP1, and an explicit go live clause in the license agreement.

New features include RenderAction (and Action, Expression Based Helpers (TextBoxFor, TextAreaFor, etc.), Client Validation Improvements (validation summary) and more.

According to Phil Haack, Microsoft hopes to have a release candidate out before the end of the year.