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First there were the desktop wars. Then the browser wars. Now Microsoft is challenging players like Amazon, Google, and smaller companies like Zoho for dominance in the Cloud. When the browser wars started, Bill Gates made a dramatic change in Microsoft’s business direction to pursue a new course. It’s clear that Microsoft is at the crossroads again and Steve Ballmer and Ray Ozzie are now struggling to chart out new territory for Microsoft.Microsoft’s On-Demand push since January include subscription versions of Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint which are expected to become available in late 2008.It’s been a little slow in coming, but Microsoft announced at the Mix08 Web developer conference an in-the-cloud data service called SQL Server Data Services (SSDS). The On-Demand service will be based on the popular Microsoft SQL Server technology. The new service is aimed at Web developers who don’t want to deal with the hassle of managing a database. Microsoft describes SSDS as “highly scalable, on-demand data storage and query processing utility services.” The focus is mostly on startups and small to medium sized companies. The interface to the database is via REST or SOAP web services.It’s interesting to note though that this isn’t at all a drop-in replacement of a SQL database. SSDS uses a new language called LINQ. SQL will return rows from tables of elements, LINQ (Language Integrated Query). The idea is that LINQ could support a wider variety of datatypes than what are in SQL. Search and query operators are standard programming language operators in LINQ. Equally interesting is that LINQ is not a language in itself, it is a language extension to .NET language supported by Microsoft’s CLR, like C# and Visual Basic.The bad news is that the program is only in beta and not expected to be non-beta until mid next year. But then Microsoft’s competitors, Google and Amazon, seem to be in perpetual beta with their services. Also the features of SSDS are a subset of the features available in SQL Server, and even a full-featured SQL Server lags behind the features of Oracle or DB2.With SDSS Microsoft competes against other in-the-cloud Databases that include DabbleDB, Amazon, CouchDB, GoogleBase, Zoho Creator and TrackVia.Currently SSDS is most similar to what Amazon is doing with their SimpleDB package. In some ways, Microsoft is ahead of the pack, at least ahead of traditionaldatabase vendors in starting an On-Demand presence, namely Oracle and IBM. Seems like another technology war is in the brewing.