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Microsoft is offering developers free access to the smallest possible compute cycles on its Azure cloud in an effort to tempt first timers.

The software giant on Tuesday said devs signing up to Windows Azure will get free access to 750 hours of extra small, virtual-machine-based compute instances running on Azure until June 30.

The revised offer extends Microsoft's earlier introductory offer from December 2010 of 25 small compute instances.

A compute instances is the size of virtual machine Microsoft runs on its Windows Azure servers and have been built to handle different apps based on complexity and workload.

Microsoft appears to be responding to the number-one complaint from developers that Windows Azure is too expensive. The biggest request of Windows Azure programmers has been that Microsoft make it less expensive to run very small services on Microsoft's cloud.

That's a problem for Microsoft, which is rolling out Azure as its alternative to Amazon's EC2, Google, Rackspace and others fluffing development and deployment of apps. Rather than focus on just .NET for once, the company is also trying to snare PHP and Java coders building new or extending existing apps.

Microsoft makes instances available in five flavors, starting at extra small - 1GHz of CPU, 768MB memory, 20GB of instance storage with low I/O performance - up to extra large - eight 1.6GHz CPUs, 14GB memory, 2,040GB instance of storage with a high I/O. Extra small is priced $0.05 per hour and extra large $0.96.

A small compute instance was clearly too much for those starting out and unsure of Azure or the cloud. You get a 1.6GHz processor, 1.75GB of memory, 225GB of instance storage, and moderate I/O performance for $0.12 an hour.

Today's updated offer and the offer in December come with 500MB of storage, 10,000 storage transactions, 100,000 access control transactions and two service bus connections.

Microsoft's revised offer to devs also throws in the same 25 hours of small compute offered last December. Tuesday's proposal makes no mention of the 500MB in and 500MB out of data transfers that was included in the December offer. ®

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