What will .Net do for me?

What's the vision for the next generation of the Internet?

It's a networked world where there are no walls between data. Where the concept of a "personal" computer is irrelevant. Where information is nowhere, and everywhere, all at the same time.

Imagine being able to work at home, at the beach, or at the corner coffee shop on anyone's computer, accessing all your personal applications and files from your office PC. Or having your home's front doorbell also signal your Web-enabled cell phone or other mobile device, so you can "sign" for that FedEx package while you're at the grocery store.

Business people will especially benefit. Simply by making an airline reservation for a business trip, for example, you will automatically be able to generate bookings for a rental car, a limo to pick you up at your house and dinner reservations at your destination. The digital calendars of your entire work team can even be updated, notifying co-workers of your absence.

And if a storm the morning of your flight delays your departure, all your travel plans -- all of them -- will be revised automatically.

That's the future. That's XML Web services. And that's .Net.

.Net is Microsoft's strategy for a seamless, exquisitely integrated computing future. In the world of .Net, Web servers are the critical element instead of computers.

The Internet will operate via a lingua franca called XML, an open standard that will enable PCs, smart devices, applications and Web sites to exchange data freely.

While .Net isn't the only path to this newly empowered Internet, Microsoft is making the jump remarkably simple to achieve through an organized, easy-to-deploy, secure and interoperable framework. In fact, .Net heralds a new era in Internet power that will transform e-business, e-commerce and most people's daily lives.

What's more, .Net is not only a platform for developing Web services. It can also accelerate the development of traditional desktop applications, Web-based applications and applications that run on other computing devices such as Pocket PCs and cell phones. The .Net Framework eliminates so much coding that development cycles are 40% to 60% faster than before.

This has enormous implications for businesses. It means you can "do more with less," as Microsoft says in its latest advertising campaign. You can get more functionality for the same price -- and make your budget dollars stretch further.

It also means you can save a bundle in costs related to maintaining and enhancing code. One Chicago-area business that hired a .Net consultant to rewrite and upgrade a facilities management application reduced 1.3 million lines of code to just over 300,000. The same firm also added a new Pocket PC version of the application that required only 33,000 lines of code instead of several hundred thousand. The result was big savings.

Other area businesses have reaped similar rewards by applying the .Net advantage to their own industries.

A global logistics service used .Net to consolidate accounting, CRM, shipping logistics and other primary business tasks from all locations around the globe into one integrated application; provide real-time visibility of cargo shipment and order status; and enable customers to track orders online.

A local homebuilder selected .Net to create a Web-based application allowing customers to select tile, paint and other finishes for their dream homes online. An insurance company used the platform to build a claims workflow application. And so on.

What do businesses need to do to get started? My advice is to start small. Look for opportunities to improve productivity through integration of systems, people or information.

- Don't try to do it all at once. Choose a customer or group of customers and share some information via XML Web services. An experienced .Net developer will enable you to build your systems correctly.

- Look at some of the XML Web services already released, and think about how you could leverage them. Microsoft MapPoint.Net, for instance, can be used by an insurance organization to determine how far a person lives from a geographic point that has insurance significance. Or, just for fun, check out a real-time baseball statistics service built with .Net.

- If you are building custom applications to handle data transferred from customers, clients, or partners, you are ready to begin to build solutions that follow XML standards and XML Web services at a reduced cost and in a more flexible manner.

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