TECH ED - .Net evangelist talks shop

Months after the prime-time release of Microsoft's developer toolkit Visual Studio .Net, the company is offering additional tools and software upgrades that it says will harness the initiative's capabilities for delivering software and services over the Internet.

Eric Rudder, Microsoft's senior vice president of developer platforms, who is also the evangelist for the company's broad .Net initiative, kicked off the TechEd 2002 developer conference here with several new products and software announcements as well as testimonials from customers who have begun using the tools to build their own next generation Web applications.

Rudder demonstrated Microsoft's first commercially available XML (Extensible Markup Language) Web service, called MapPoint .Net, which can be used to add mapping and location-based services to applications, Web sites or Web-based services. Now available in its second version, MapPoint .Net has support for the Web service standard SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol).

To be hosted by Microsoft, MapPoint .Net is aimed at helping software developers, portal designers and corporate users easily embed maps, driving instructions, distance calculations and proximity searches into their applications. Among its features, MapPoint .Net is capable of finding street addresses in the U.S., Canada and 11 European countries, with maps and driving directions delivered automatically in nine languages, Microsoft said.

On the software side, Microsoft officially unveiled Commerce Server 2002, the first in its line of .Net enterprise servers that includes built-in support for the .Net Framework, a runtime environment that is used to execute applications designed for .Net.

"The .Net enterprise servers truly provide the foundation to build upon," Rudder said of the push to develop Web-based applications such as its MapPoint .Net.

Also during Wednesday's keynote, Rudder announced the Exchange 2000 Server XML Web Services Toolkit for .Net. The new toolkit, which is used in conjunction with Visual Studio .Net, offers developer tools and other resources designed to link .Net applications with Exchange. Users will be able to take advantage of Exchange features such as a calendar, workflow scheduling and messaging. The toolkit supplies sample code white papers, and a training course to quicken the design and development of XML Web services.

Exemplifying the uptake of Microsoft .Net tools, Rudder announced that Microsoft has shipped 1 million copies of Visual Studio .Net since its launch. However, while the potential for these new tools and software products are wide, some developers here have yet to embrace them in the real world.

"We're still in the evaluation phase," said TechEd attendee George Havens, a software architect with Fujitsu Transaction Solutions Inc. in Raleigh, North Carolina. While his company, a wholly owned unit of Fujitsu Ltd., is toying with .Net, it is far from developing applications like some demonstrated here by Microsoft partners.

"I think a lot of it is still in the future," Havens said. "For us, it's a much slower migration to .Net."

Kevin Reiners, director of information systems with medical software maker Vital Images Inc. in Plymouth, Minnesota, also said his company is taking a slow approach to porting existing applications to .Net or building new ones from scratch.

"It would definitely be a benefit to our sales force and our customers," said Reiners, whose company builds 3-D rendering software for the medical industry. However, Reiners said his company is hindered by the lack of experience most engineers have with the technology.

"It's a new technology and there's not a lot of staff out there who knows how to work with it," Reiners said.

A centerpiece of Microsoft's partner demonstrations reflected the complexity of building new applications based on Microsoft's .Net tools. Citigroup Inc. offered a view of a Web-based application it was building that combined nearly 250 individual .Net Web services into a single user interface. Designed to gather various financial data and news customized for each user, the application isn't expected to go live until the end of the year.

When it is complete "each employee will get a targeted daily dose of content," said Paul Galant, global head of e-commerce and market data strategy at Citigroup's Salomon Smith Barney Holdings Inc., who demonstrated the application here.

Akamai Technologies Inc. has also begun work on a project with Microsoft to create a version of Akamai's EdgeSuite product, which sits on the edge of a network. The upcoming version, to be called EdgeSuite for Microsoft .Net, will allow Akamai customers to have faster delivery of .Net Web services.

Other partners who have signed on with Microsoft to propel .Net into real-world use include Cable and Wireless PLC. The two companies will collaborate to speed up the development and deployment of .Net Web services. The first effort under the newly formed alliance will be to deploy a distributed .Net platform that will provide users with the infrastructure and managed services to build and manage XML Web services on the hosting network Cable & Wireless acquired from Exodus Communications Inc.

(Ed Scannell is a reporter for InfoWorld, an IDG News Service affiliate.)

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