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A New Facet of Computing in the Cloud

I have been working with Google's AppEngine since its first day of release. Their vision was instantly compelling, and the birth of Microsoft's Azure platform only increased my feeling that even in its infancy, cloud computing is the best way for web entrepreneurs to create their businesses. These platforms give us a way to develop and deploy applications with two compelling advantages over alternative hosting options: low cost of entry and effortless scaling to accommodate success.
Over the past week, I completed some work for a client that showed me another important facet of the cloud computing revolution: services in the cloud. These are web services  that can provide absolutely critical infrastructure points to enable the success of small, incipient web-based businesses.
In particular, I was working with Amazon Flexible Payment Service, creating a Python library to enable its use from within an AppEngine application. It is a beautiful, wonderfully-designed product, and working with it was a joy. It was readily apparent to me that any business could use it to quickly and almost effortlessly take care of their billing needs with very little middle-man overhead.
While I was investigating FPS, I took a look at the other AWS products. Everyone knows about EC2 and S3, both of which are integral parts of many exciting new web ventures, but I was surprised and delighted to discover CloudFront, a pay-as-you-go Content Delivery Network and DevPay, a way for developers not only to bill users for provided services but also to pay for the Amazon Web Services products that they utilize to provide the service in their first place. There you have two huge obstacles to success and growth accounted for. CloudFront enables you to deliver your static content at very low cost and minimal effort; DevPay provides for the management and collection of subscriptions or other fees while removing the step of getting billed by Amazon for the EC2, S3, SimpleDB, CloudFront or whatever other products are being used. Brilliant.
Over the coming days and weeks, I'm going to be writing a lot more about these and other services that enable entrepreneurs and small businesses to succeed on the web. I can scarcely contain my excitement at what I see as an explosion of new technologies that -- if used synergistically -- could completely reshape the way that businesses are created and run.

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Life is good (for a frugal New Englander software entrepreneur)

Legitimate Spring weather has finally arrived in New England, seemingly to stay.  The Red Sox have the best record in the AL; the Celtics look like they are poised to cruise through the Eastern conference, and the Bruins made a good show of it.

What's not to like?

Oh yeah, and I've been thinking recently about how being a software entrepreneur today is so much more interesting and fun and full of possibilities than it ever has been before, at least in my experience.  Why?  Because the barrier to entry is so low.  It was once the case that creating and selling an application required investment in compilers, distributable media, advertising, hosting, staffing, office space...a seemingly endless list of overhead-hangover-inducing rigmarole.

Today, I can create a revenue-generating application with nothing more than a laptop and a good idea.  There are excellent development tools that are free (NetBeans, Komodo Edit, Aptana, Eclipse, Visual Studio Express), hosting providers that are free or so cheap that they don't hurt (Google AppEngine, Amazon's EC2), powerful frameworks that speed development (too many to list, but Ruby on Rails and Django spring to mind for web applications and .NET/Mono for web and desktop) that are free.  There are free operating systems, and even free network access (at least some places, like the fabulous Boston Public Library).

I don't have to pay for any kind of company information infrastructure; Google Apps for Domains provides free email and calender hosting, a word processor, spreadsheets and presentation builder all with built-in collaboration tools.  I don't have to pay for a sales and marketing staff (AdWords) or worry about a complex revenue model or collections (AdSense).

Of course, I am only writing here about the tools/frameworks/applications that I have directly used at one time or another.  I'm sure that there are dozens or even hundred of other cost-saving/eliminating techniques and approaches being used by other like-minded developers.  It all adds-up to there being no excuses not to try out your ideas, to form sudden companies and get to market immediately.