Microsoft has built it. Now they hope developers and customers will come.

At its newly minted BUILD 2011 conference in September, Microsoft unveiled—among many things—its next-generation operating system, Windows 8, with the Metro interface first introduced in Windows Phone 7. This creates a universal look and ‘touch’ feel across desktop, tablet and smartphone devices, but still allows developers who prefer mouse-based application navigation to choose that option. This might seem out of sync, which it is: Windows 8 is built on an asynchronous model designed to prevent the UI from being blocked.

It was a continuation of the company’s strategy, put forth at May’s TechEd, where the company said loud and clear that it was moving strongly to the cloud and onto devices. Enhancements to the Windows Azure cloud platform included an AppFabric Service Bus, which provides connectivity between the cloud and back-end, on-premise databases; and AppFabric Application Developer Tools, which includes a composition model that encourages the use of workflows and other declarative techniques to stitch application components together.

Microsoft’s cloud offering got another big boost last year with the third preview release of SQL Server Denali, a “must have” if cloud is part of your future. New Juneau tools replace Business Intelligence Developer Studio and others, forming a unified suite for developers.

In 2011, Microsoft also released to developer preview Visual Studio 11, and a cloud service of its Team Foundation life-cycle management suite. There was LightSwitch, software for developers and non-developers alike to create business applications using forms.

And, last year saw much ado about the future of Silverlight, Microsoft’s rich Internet application development software, vis-à-vis the emerging HTML5 Web standard. Microsoft offered some clarification, saying XAML was actually the key. XAML is the language behind the presentation of applications in Windows Presentation Foundation and Silverlight, but it’s also playing an important role in Metro-style applications. Understanding XAML, experts point out, will be important for working with the Windows Runtime found in Windows 8.