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Jeff Bezos' Risky Bet

Amazon's CEO wants to run your business with the technology behind his Web site. But Wall street wants him to mind the store

It was one of the Web's typical flash frenzies, a gaggle of geeks seeking the new, new thing. At 2 a.m. on Aug. 24, a new venture called Elastic Compute Cloud quietly launched in test mode. Its service: cheap, raw computing power that could be tapped on demand over the Internet just like electricity. In less than five hours, hundreds of programmers, hoping to use the service to power their MySpace (NWS ) and Google (GOOG ) wannabes, snapped up all the test slots. One desperate latecomer instant-messaged a $10,000 offer for a slot to a lucky winner, who declined to give it up. "It's really cool," enthuses entrepreneur Luke Matkins, who will run his soon-to-launch music site on the service. The creator of this très cool service: Inc. (AMZN )

Yes, Amazon founder and Chief Executive Jeffrey P. Bezos, the onetime Internet poster boy who quickly became a post-dot-com piñata, is back with yet another new idea. Many people continue to wonder if the world's largest online store will ever fulfill its original promise to revolutionize retailing. But now Bezos is plotting another new direction for his 12-year-old company, which he will lay out on Nov. 8 at San Francisco's Web 2.0 Conference, the annual gathering of the digerati crème. Judging from an advance look he gave BusinessWeek on one recent gray day at Amazon's Seattle headquarters, it's so far from Amazon's retail core that you may well wonder if he has finally slipped off the deep end.