Microsoft execs foreshadow .Net future

Microsoft chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates provided some insight into the future of the .Net product line Wednesday here at a .Net Briefing day on the company's campus.

In addition to announcing the availability of Release Candidate 1 (RC1) of .Net Server, Gates discussed a road map for .Net, including forthcoming products.

Describing the path to the future release of the next generation of Windows, code-named Longhorn, as a "long-term approach," Gates reiterated Microsoft's position that XML is the foundation of its software development efforts.

Gates said Microsoft's .Net vision is designed to "break down barriers" imposed by the current generation of software. Noting that people still ask for the definition of .Net, he said its goal is to build "software to connect information, people, systems, and devices."

Gates was also candid in his speech, offering a report card of Microsoft's progress with .Net. While he gave Microsoft "A" for "Rallying the industry" and "Tools and Infrastructure," Gates gave the company "C" for "Building block services" and "Software as a Service," noting it has only made "very modest progress" with the latter. Meanwhile, he listed as incomplete Microsoft's vision for "Federation" and "Transformative User Experiences."

To that end, Gates announced Microsoft will work to improve its "presence" capabilities on .Net server with the "Greenwich" Real Time Communications server due out in the first half of 2003. Greenwich will be supported on the services side by .Net messenger.

Microsoft is addressing improvements in notification services through the SQL Notification server due out in August 2002, supported with services from .Net Alerts, while the company's authentication efforts are structured around Windows Active Directory and TrustBridge, due out in the first half of 2003. TrustBridge will rely on integrated services from Passport, Gates said.

"Everything we do needs to have the service and the server, plus the client," he said.

To that end, Jeff Raikes, group vice president of Microsoft's productivity and business services group, in his address here Wednesday, announced Office XP Web Services Toolkit 2.0. The tool uses XML to enable knowledge workers to unlock data within the organization, according to Microsoft. Raikes also touted a pact inked earlier this week with Groove Networks that will see the two companies integrate Groove Networks Inc.'s Workspace with Microsoft SharePoint Team Services, to enable information sharing among project teams regardless of geographic location.

Some observers believe, however, that the Web services strategy of Microsoft, and any vendor for that matter, are merely visions living out on the horizon and will not become a pervasive force any time soon.

"Web services is an evolutionary technology. The world is not going to wake up Jan. 1, 2003, and say, 'Oh my God, we have to have Web services tomorrow and spend all sorts of money to get them.' I think people will gradually integrate Web services into their applications as they become available," aid Al Gillen, a senior analyst at IDC. in Framingham, Mass.

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