Separating hype from reality is an essential skill in our marketing-mad culture and nowhere more so than in IT.
Microsoft's .Net offers a textbook example.
As a marketing concept, .Net was born in the dizzy, waning days of the tech stock bubble. But as sometimes happens when a company can afford very aggressive marketing, the message soon began to outrun the reality.
Wrapped around the .Net core of managed code and XML Web services were a number of high-concept initiatives. Software would be sold as a service. Microsoft would become the Internet's central clearinghouse for identity management. Users would consume and annotate information on an XML "universal canvas."
These initiatives were (and still are) largely vaporware. But the core was (and is) very real. C# and Visual Basic .Net support a modern, object-oriented programming style. The CLR (Common Language Runtime) delivers benefits similar to those of the Java virtual machine. The framework class library embodies many tried-and-true software patterns. And ASP .Net is a better way to build browser-based interfaces.
Ironically, Microsoft began to de-emphasize the .Net moniker just as the collective positive impact of these tools began to be felt.
David Treadwell, general manager of the .Net platform developer division, explains the company's reasoning in his interview with Udell. Reading between the lines, one can surmise that Bill Gates and company realized that in a battle for brand strength, the name "Windows" would always trump the oddly punctuated, improbably pronounced ".Net."
Hence, the Windows .Net Server became Windows Server 2003, and the company's marketing machine lumbered on toward the more user-friendly Longhorn name for future technologies.
After peeling away the hype, we gave fairly good marks to the .Net initiative. It made software development and deployment easier, and its handling of Web services in particular rated a solid "A".
Sure, .Net leaves plenty to be desired. Witness the slow and difficult transition to managed code and the failure to unify the richness of the GUI client with the reach of the browser -- issues Microsoft says the forthcoming "Whidbey" release of the run time, framework, and tools will partly resolve.
But on the whole, .Net managed to move the art of software development forward for those who use Windows, and that's a good outcome for an initiative that started life in a bubble.