Microsoft Pitches .NET to Developers

Microsoft Corp. began this month the long process of romancing developers with the promises of its fledgling .NET platform at Fusion 2000 in Orlando.

Microsoft’s ( .NET represents an effort to remain vital as the industry moves beyond its PC-centric present to a future that combines PCs, wireless devices, and Internet services -- all working together to hide the seams among various data stores. For .NET to succeed, Microsoft must retain its existing base of Windows developers and attract new developers who are already targeting their efforts at the Web.

Previously referred to as Next Generation Windows Services, the .NET platform, outlined last month at Forum 2000 in Redmond, relies heavily on XML and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). Microsoft wants to meld clients, corporate servers, and Web-based services to interact dynamically to put information at the right place at the right time.

Paul Maritz, group vice president of the platforms group at Microsoft, attempted to woo developers gathered in Orlando with promises of new opportunity.

"By creating a unified platform where devices and services cooperate with each other, Microsoft is unleashing a new wave of developer opportunity and creativity that will help developers reach a new level of power and simplicity," Maritz said.

Developers attending Fusion received technology previews to get started, including a .NET framework software development kit and Visual Studio.NET, a new version of Microsoft’s development toolset that is slated for availability in 2001.

Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates promises .NET will be a major focus of the company going forward, not a temporary thrust to be abandoned in a year or two.

"It’s a bet the company thing. We are putting our resources behind .NET," Gates says. Better than half of Microsoft’s $4 billion research and development budget this year is focused on .NET.

The .NET framework SDK and Visual Studio.NET previews are the first deliverables in the .NET platform, although Microsoft positions the XML integration work done on its enterprise server products over the last 18 months as a step toward .NET. Next year, Microsoft expects to deliver some pieces of the .NET infrastructure, including Windows.NET client software and three or four Web-based megaservices. The full picture of what .NET will look like is not complete, though, and Microsoft executives caution users against expecting a comprehensive .NET platform before 2002.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft president and CEO, says the company is trying to bootstrap the industry with its initiative. "The direction we’ve outlined … is one that we think the industry is going to go down," Ballmer says.

While Microsoft is quick to point to partners, ISVs, and tool vendors already working to support the .NET framework, Ballmer acknowledges it will be difficult to determine for some time whether Microsoft is making any headway with the developer community at large.

"I think it’s something you’ll have a hard time to really know if we’ve started the parade … for six months to a year," Ballmer says.

For senior management, Ballmer suggests doing a little homework on XML, but otherwise he endorses a wait-and-see attitude.

"How should a CIO respond to this? With a long-term view. First, it highlights the importance of XML. Look at XML development today. Understand the schema for the important objects in our world. Look at development tools. You’d sort of focus down on the XML aspects to start," Ballmer says. "It probably doesn’t mean anything else to [them] this year."