Opinion: What is .Net?

Microsoft has proven its ability to make serious mistakes (think Internet Explorer 1.0), learn from them, and then return with a vengeance. (OK, except maybe with WebTV.) So it goes with .Net. Warning: The following will make a lot more sense if you brush up on the concept of Web services first.

So, what it is? In a nutshell, .Net is Microsoft's Web services platform. Round 1 of .Net was a lot about consumers, software as services and Microsoft as the ultimate storage vessel for everyone's personal data. We're are now in ".Net 2.0," which looks better: better tools, better integration with Windows 2000, a more open architecture that gives customers more flexibility and a renewed focus on application integration and B2B instead of B2C. Now is when we'll see exactly how competitive the Java folks can remain as they bicker about which way the wind's blowing while Microsoft steams ahead.

How come I keep hearing about Microsoft Office in connection with .Net? Remember that whole battle for browser domination? Turns out it didn't matter anyway. What really needs to happen (according to Microsoft) is for every application to display its content through Microsoft Office--and .Net is here to help. Back-end applications work through Office clients as their user interface. Ideally, Microsoft Outlook plus Web services could let smaller companies interact with large CRM packages like those from Siebel, without a big infrastructure upgrade or software expense. In other words, there is no XML-based data that a Microsoft app couldn't display as well as or better than other applications. Is it self-serving? Of course. Microsoft will make a lot more money if it keeps people on the Office upgrade path rather than dumping everything into a free browser. But if you've ever spent all day working inside a badly designed, poor performing thin client on a browser, you also know it makes some sense.

Sounds like Microsoft wants to take over my world. Again. Well, yes. The ultimate Microsoft goal remains the same as ever: to have a Windows logo staring you in the face 24/7. Hop in your car, and it will be there in your radio, or "auto PC." Collapse in the living room, and it'll be on your TV, or "Windows Media Center" (basically a PC that also serves as an audio/video organizer). Wander into the back yard and it will be on your tablet PC, PDA or cell phone. And all of these devices will connect to .Net Web services (facilitated by your Passport, naturally).

Is that such a bad thing? Well, consider this from a Microsoft .Net presentation: One demo showed a far-future (admittedly consumer-oriented) app that included 3D animations, video, a soundtrack and a nifty interface--all for the purpose of providing information about a skiing event. The goal, it seems, is to make applications more exciting, the better to keep the attention of the PlayStation generation. By using .Net tools, such apps will supposedly be simple to create and deploy. And you thought Web pages that use repeating images as background, strange color fonts and MIDI sound effects for atmosphere were annoying. You ain't seen nothing yet.

Glossary

.Net
Microsoft's Web services platform, which offers software as services, along with storage and integration with Windows 2000.

Web services description language (WSDL)
The blurb associated with each entry that describes what kind of work the Web service can do--say, that it can give you access to a database of ZIP codes.

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