Microsoft touts .Net to wary developers

Developers can grab the latest Web development tools from Microsoft at the TechEd 2001 conference this week, but the new software may quickly become shelfware as companies defer their moves to Web services.

Microsoft plans to give attendees preview copies of the second beta version of its long-awaited Visual Studio.Net and .Net framework software at the annual event in Atlanta.

In addition to supplying previews of its tools, the company also needs to persuade end users to embrace its .Net Web services framework.

"Web services is not something we're planning to do," said Evelyn Follit, CIO at RadioShack. The Fort Worth, Texas-based electronics retailer is happy with its investments in Microsoft technologies, but it doesn't have an interest in swapping services over the Web, she said.

Introduced in June of last year, Microsoft's .Net initiative consists of a middleware layer that will allow Windows component-based applications to swap functionality and process requests from applications built using other programming languages and other operating systems.

Web Services Unsold

Although rivals IBM and Sun Microsystems are also pushing Web services, a number of users said they still aren't sold.

For example, Navimedix Inc. considered switching to a Java-based environment last year, said Chuck Grindel, software engineer at the Boston-based online health insurance claims processor.

Navimedix ultimately opted to stay with Microsoft because of its existing investments in the vendor's servers, databases and custom-developed applications. But the company has no plans to build .Net applications.

"We didn't see anything compelling enough [in Java] to justify the switch," said Grindel. "We don't do anything .Net yet; we're using the older technology, but the platform is performing."

But like it or not, Microsoft users will have to migrate existing code, said analysts.

"Going from Visual Basic to Visual Studio.Net is not as difficult as going from Visual Basic to Java," said Mark Driver, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., who estimated that 40 percent of Windows-based Web applications will need to be migrated.

To shore up support for .Net, Microsoft will need to address the concerns of developers, said Evan Quinn, an analyst at Hurwitz Group Inc. in New York, who said, ".Net is still a little bit nebulous right now."

"They have to make the programmers feel that this technology is cool and that there is a commercial upside for their career in using it," he said.

Microsoft is expected to showcase two of its new Visual Studio.Net tools this week.

Visual Studio.Net Enterprise Architect (VSEA) provides conceptual, logical and physical modeling tools for mapping out the business requirements of .Net applications.

Visual Studio.Net Enterprise Developer (VSED) contains frameworks and templates for creating .Net applications, as well as a version-control and data management utility.

Both VSEA and VSED offer software and database testing tools, the first version of Microsoft's new object-oriented language C# (pronounced C sharp) and the Common Language Runtime for .Net.

Visual Studio.Net and the .Net platform are expected to ship by year's end.

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