Start with the Azure and Oslo announcements, demonstrations and presentations from PDC 2008. As I noted earlier, Microsoft now has the most advanced PaaS offering on the market, much more enterprise friendly than Google AppEngine. (AppEngine wins out for extreme scale web applications, however--hands down.)
I watched the high level overview of Oslo given by Douglas Purdy, a product unit manager working on next generation tools at Microsoft. It was riveting. The thought and engineering that went into the models and tools demonstrated in that 70+ minutes were revolutionary to me. Meta-programming of generalized models with the capability to underwrite both domain-specific and generalized programming languages. If that sentence doesn't make sense, watch the video.
Here's the thing. Oslo goes beyond the Java/C# debates. It creates a platform in which complex systems can be described by a series of fairly simple models, assembled together as needed to meet the task at hand. Text tools for the low level stuff, visual tools for the high level assembly, etc. It really was an eye opening view of what Microsoft has been working on now for a few years.
Now take a look at Azure, and the "All-Enterprise" infrastructure that will be available there. Identity services (OpenID, no less), an Enterprise Service Bus, relational and unstructured database services--the list goes on. If you take the time to learn .NET, you can get an amazing experience where the development tools just flow into the deployment models, which just flow into the operational advantages, whether on-premises or in the cloud.
Yeah, Azure is PaaS and Microsoft-centric to start, but may just work as advertised. Note as well that all this functionality required little or no open source. As James Governor notes:
"...[C]ustomers always vote with their feet, and they tend vote for something somewhat proprietary - see Salesforce APEX and iPhone apps for example."and Dion Almaer
"We can’t just be Open, we have to be better!" [Emphasis his]Let it be known that Microsoft may have actually thrown down the gauntlet, started growing their "Tribe", in which case the rest of the industry would need to decide quickly how to respond.
I still maintain that Azure is only interesting to the existing Microsoft development pool. However, it they have great success in creating and hosting enterprise applications, IBM and HP (and Amazon and Google) are going to have a tough time convincing others that their option is the better option. If Oslo provides a technology that revolutionizes development, it seals the fate of many if not all PaaS platforms (i.e. "adapt or die"). This would mean that any power law effects that may exist would go in Microsoft's favor. Azure FTW.
Postlude: All of this was triggered by a Nick Carr observation of a Jack Schofield story. I recommend highly reading both, as well as Governor's and Almaer's posts.