At Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C. this week, the digital diplodocus will announce its lumbering movement into the cloud along with an appeal for its partners to hold hands and make the leap as well. For those partners that are still a little hesitant to make the jump, Microsoft seems more than ready to provide an "encouraging" shove. Sessions at the conference tackle several variations on the theme of making money off the cloud, like "Open Government and the Cloud: A Perfect Storm for Partner Opportunities," "The Cloud Opportunity in Education," and the more straight-forward "Winning the Cloud with Microsoft Online Services." All in all, no less than 150 sessions come up in a search for panels tagged "cloud."

Microsoft's "Azure" cloud package is the main focus, but other new products like WebMatrix and Shareconnect have cloud-ish components, and CEO Steve Ballmer has been hyping the cloud in recent months.

Of course, it's tough to see this new cloud campaign as much more than Redmond playing catch-up once again. Google is already set up on the largest, free public clouds in the sky, and Apple can be seen basking in the clubby atmosphere of their own cloud, separated from the rest by a pay-wall low enough to get a view of the rest of the world, but just high enough to be a little irritating for anyone looking to hop over.

Thing is, in its rush to get airborne, Microsoft is bound to run into some turbulence on the way, particularly with its partners. Consider, for example, the company's many hosting partners - their very existence is now threatened by the move to the cloud. To keep from getting trampled under foot during the march to the future, consider the session being offered in D.C. this week which touts the potential of "re-selling and distributing cloud-based apps" versus those silly old-fashioned on-site apps. Just another nice, friendly shove.

Microsoft has run into trouble in other areas where they've been forced to play catch-up this year, with market share for Windows Mobile eroding at an accelerated rate and the Kin falling flat. But while the company was always at a disadvantage in the wireless world, CEO Ballmer and others are hoping that it can translate its flagging but still undeniable domination in areas like business e-mail and office productivity apps into a sustainable model for cloud computing, even if it takes a little shoving.

Photo by eriwst on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

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