While Amazon.com has just formally lifted the "beta" caveat off its two-year old cloud computing service, EC2; fashionably-late Microsoft has just announced details of its forthcoming cloud computing service called "Azure".

The announcement comes as no shock. CEO Steve Ballmer let it be known back on October 1st that such an announcement was about a month away.

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's head of software architecture, says Azure will be available for free while in beta and then priced "competitively" thereafter. He acknowledged that it will be designed to compete against services like Amazon's EC2.

Ozzie says eventually all of Microsoft's web-based applications will be hosted on "the cloud" and through their virtualization technology this will enable them to seamlessly update and patch applications helping companies further streamline their IT departments.

The one detail not given at Ozzie's keynote speech at a professional developer's conference, where all this took place; when? No word on when Azure will be launched publicly in beta.