Users hold back on plans for .Net

Getting a firm grasp on the .Net initiative that Microsoft Corp. launched more than 10 months ago might be likened to catching a fish with one's bare hands. Even one of Microsoft's top executives, Jim Allchin, publicly acknowledged last week, "I know it's been confusing."

The result? Many IT professionals at last week's Gartner Inc. conference, Windows 2000 and Beyond, said they haven't been seriously thinking about or making plans for the .Net world that Microsoft has been promoting. Allchin spoke at the conference about his company's new Web service-focused development platform strategy.

"From a business perspective, I need justification, ROI, before I buy something different," said Joe Drozynski, an IT project manager at Capital Blue Cross in Harrisburg, Pa. ".Net is a vision, and I don't see it as something I can take to my CIO."

Calling .Net "total vaporware," a Windows NT project leader and manager at a Midwestern publishing firm said, "I know it's how they plan to bring everything together. It just sounds too huge to ever work."

"I think I'm as confused as everybody else is right now. [.Net] seems to be a moving target," said Dennis Lionberger, chief of architecture for Marin County, Calif. "Right now, it's not well defined enough to mean much to me. I'm not sure Microsoft is sure what it will be. My first take is to wait for them to figure it out."

At the Gartner show, Allchin tried to clarify the .Net message by boiling it down to the following five points:

- A new programming model that's "loosely coupled, XML-based, message-oriented" for developers to use in a heterogeneous environment, integrated for the Internet.

- Meta-Internet services, such as Microsoft's Passport, an identification service that consumers can opt into to personalize their Web experience.

- Tools such as Visual Studio.Net to create new Web services with XML.

- "Great clients and servers" that are equipped to parse and process XML and handle messages sent using the Simple Object Access Protocol.

- Web services to which developers can program. For instance, a developer might want to link a flight-booking application on one site to a car-booking application on another.

"What Jim said added a little more detail and more pieces of the puzzle for people to figure out," said analyst David Smith at Gartner in Stamford, Conn. But Allchin didn't clear up the confusion, he added. ".Net is a huge thing, and they haven't done a very good job of describing it thus far," Smith said.

He said one miscue was Microsoft branding its enterprise servers with the ".Net" moniker, even though the ".Net enterprise servers have nothing to do with software as a service or Web services."

No matter how confusing the message, one .Net element that's expected to affect most large enterprises is the new development tools. Gartner predicted that most companies will equally leverage both .Net and Java platforms for e-business within five years.

Yet .Net won't enter the realm of possibility for most companies until Microsoft's Visual Studio.Net tool ships later in the year.

Not surprisingly, serious interest in .Net applications has been limited so far, said Rajiv Tewari, director of business intelligence solutions at Seattle-based Avanade Inc., an IT consulting company that is a joint venture of Microsoft.

Tewari, who is planning his company's .Net strategy, said he doesn't expect to see prototype .Net applications until the third or fourth quarter. He predicted that interest will ramp up significantly by the end of next year.

Tewari said one challenge will be clearing up customer confusion over the business benefits that .Net can bring. "I can convince the technical architects, the developers, because technologically, \[.Net\] is a superior platform," he said, noting that the .Net framework will make applications easier to develop, deploy and maintain. "However, the key factor is convincing the business folks."

Many firms are still assimilating Microsoft's last development platform, Windows DNA, said Rick Grandy, manager of network applications and systems at a Richland, Wash.-based division of Lockheed Martin Corp.

"It seems to me that .Net is trying to be both a development environment and the delivery vehicle," said Lionberger. "I expect it will change quite a bit."

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