Microsoft Woos Developers with .NET

ORLANDO, FLORIDA (07/12/2000) - Microsoft Corp. continued its "software as a service" blitz on software developers Wednesday, with Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates describing a new "client/server/services" infrastructure model that will be spawned by the .NET platform.

"That three-level platform will change how developers think about writing their applications," Gates said told attendees of the company's Professional Developers Conference here. "Applications will be deployed and completely up to date simply using that infrastructure."

The developer community is crucial to Microsoft's plans for .NET, the strategy first unveiled last month at Forum 2000 at the firm's Redmond, Wash. headquarters. .NET relies on services such as Microsoft's Passport, which stores a user's personal information for use on a variety of Web sites.

Microsoft wooed the crowd with a pre-beta release of Visual Studio.NET, and spelled out its tools strategy going forward, including a common run time that brings a wide variety of programming languages together.

"Every language you are interested in, we will make sure we or a third-party will have a great development connection to this framework for that kind of development," Gates said.

"There is no such thing as a single-language solution," said Dr. Bertrand Meyer, president of Interactive Software Engineering (ICE) in Santa Barbara, Calif., which produces tools for the Eiffel programming language. "Even if you have the best language in the world, you have to recognize that customers want to combine it with bits and pieces from other approaches. This is a multi-language world."

Dr. Basim Kadhim, Fujitsu Ltd.'s chief Cobol architect, agreed. Kadhim pointed out that Cobol's installed base includes some 125 billion lines of code, and businesses do not want to rework that infrastructure.

"Cobol can participate here (in the .NET Framework) without any differences in the user's experience," Kadhim said. "This is not just language interoperability, this is true language integration."

Nevertheless, Greg Anderson, senior systems analyst at Glaxo Wellcome Inc. in Research Triangle Park, N.C., said many COBOL developers are more concerned about issues such as microfocuses and desktop integration pieces than with integrating COBOL into the Web.

"I'm not sure that there's a really practical reason, or that COBOL developers even want it," Anderson said. "It's a misguided assumption on Microsoft's part to think that just because they give the CDs out free, people will just take them home and install them without problems. There are huge infrastructure consequences to installing them."

Gates laid out a roadmap for .NET-infused technologies from Microsoft, and threw one goody the developers' way - Internet Explorer 5.5, which was released on Wednesday.

While the new browser has some enhanced user features, Explorer 5.5 mainly is aimed at developers. New features include vertical text layout, enhanced frames, improved HTML editing services and more support for Internet standards, according to Microsoft.

While .NET will revamp the Windows file system into an XML store that lives on the Internet, and users will do most of their .NET computing through a browser, Gates said the new initiative did not mean that the PC was going by the wayside in favor of "dumb terminals."

In fact, he said, the Windows platform will maintain its relevance through the releases of Whistler - which, due in 2001, will integrate some .NET features and will finally mark Microsoft's departure from the Windows 9x code base in favor of the NT kernel - and Blackcomb, the OS release slated for 2002 which will fully incorporate .NET, and radically change the Windows user interface.

"In .NET, applications and Web sites become one thing, but that doesn't mean that code doesn't come down onto a smart client," Gates said. "It's quite the opposite. Really successful sites will have code that codes down and runs on the PC. But we'll re-label those applications 'services.'"Company officials have said that .NET has been in the works at Microsoft for at least three years. Therefore, they are not surprised that while many PDC developers are very interested in .NET, many are a bit overwhelmed and will want to spend plenty of time exploring it.

"I don't think most people really understand the magnitude of [.NET]," said Steve Anonsen, chief architect for Great Plains Software Inc., in Fargo, N.D.

"It will take people actually working with it for a while for them to understand."

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