Instead of a big bang, Microsoft's new cloud platform Windows Azure, has made lots of small news since launching as a paid service on Feb. 1. In this regard, Microsoft is similar to cloud competitor Amazon Web Services, which only breaks radio silence when they have new features to launch. No doubt, Microsoft and Amazon have been trickling important news, so let's take a look.

Windows Azure...
  • We managed to beat Microsoft's blog entry on the official launch of Azure to the punch, so here's their official word. Highlight: "Since January 2010, thousands of customers have moved from CTP to production, and partners like Origin Digital, GXS, tradefaciliate, and 3M are actively building and deploying solutions to the Windows Azure platform."
  • Recently, Microsoft's Azure team announced support for Zend Framework, giving developers an easy way to leverage Microsoft's cloud storage, including Blob Storage, Table Storage, and Queue Service, in PHP applications.
  • While on the subject, Windows Azure now has beta support for mounting your cloud storage as if it were an NTFS drive on a standard Windows machine, again with an eye towards easing application development for vendors.
  • True to form, Microsoft timed a new release of the Windows Azure Tools and SDK with the launch. It contains the aforementioned drive mounting support as well as a few bug fixes and the ability to select the "appropriate" Guest OS to run in the cloud.
  • Microsoft has launched the Azure Platform Hub, a portal for Azure partners and potential partners. It certainly looks slick, but we'll be watching to see if they post anything there worth knowing.
Amazon Web Services...
  • Amazon Web Services has dropped its prices on all outbound data transfers by $0.02, no doubt in an effort to make their platform seem more attractive cost-wise compared to the upstart Windows Azure.
  • AWS has also announced that Amazon Elastic MapReduce now supports job flow debugging from right within their management console. From their official blog entry: "This capability allows customers to track progress and identify issues in steps, jobs, tasks, or task attempts of their job flows. The job flow logs are saved in Amazon S3 and the state of tasks and task attempts is saved in Amazon SimpleDB so customers can analyze job flows even after they’ve completed."
  • GigaOM landed a rare interview with Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, who chose to spend the entire time talking about the virtues of  the cloud and AWS. Key quote from Vogels: “We are enabling a lot things in a way that will be long-term beneficial as it would help build more sustainable businesses using a lot less capital. The fact is that because of the cloud, today a young upstart can take market share without an incumbent having time to react.”
The takeaway from these news items is that we're standing at the cusp of a major battle between two of technology's most visible companies over the cloud. Neither company has a shortage of capital, brainpower, or brand recognition, and neither company is big on losing. The real question is how they're going to rally VARs and software developers to their side. Pricing? Features? Good old fashioned marketing?

Only time - and The VAR Guy - will tell.