"We think about Windows Azure as the next generation of operating systems," said Robert Wahbe, Microsoft's VP for server and tools, during a keynote address Wednesday at the Interop technology conference and expo, a UBM TechWeb event, in New York City.
Wahbe said Windows 8 will give developers the tools to build desktop or tablet applications that take advantage of advanced services in Azure, such as data caching, cloud-to-client messaging, and identity management.
To demonstrate the latter, Microsoft technical fellow John Shewchuck took the stage at Interop alongside Wahbe to show off a Windows 8 Metro-style app for a travel site called Maggie's Travel. By linking to identity management services in Azure, the app allows users to log in using any of their existing online user names and passwords, including those associated with Facebook, Windows Live, or even Google.
[Learn more about Windows 8 and whether the planned tablet is too little, too late.]
It could also be configured to work with a user's corporate credentials. "It really reduces complexity," said Shewchuck. "Identity can flow to any machine for single sign-on."
The demo made it clear that Microsoft is looking at Windows 8 as more than just the next PC operating system. Rather, the company sees it as an onramp to a host of services that could be delivered to dedicated Metro apps through Azure.
One company testing out the concept is X2Impact, which is developing technologies designed to reduce sports-related brain injury.
X2Impact has created a smart mouthguard that can be worn by athletes in contact sports like football, hockey, and lacrosse. The guard has built-in sensors that measure the severity and direction of impact, and relay the information to an Azure database.
The data is then sent back to an app that trainers and coaches can use to determine if a player may be hurt.
"Windows 8 and Windows Azure will work together to develop new kinds of experiences," said Shewchuck.
For enterprises that don't move to the cloud, Windows 8 Server will deliver many of the same services to Windows 8 apps on a local basis, said Wahbe. "We want to make sure people can start with the private cloud and move to the public cloud," he said. "This is the key strategy we're taking."
Windows Azure went live last year. The company has not announced a ship date for Windows 8, but it's widely believed that the OS will debut some time in 2012.