Wired Windows: Microsoft .Net: Seeing Is Believing

FRAMINGHAM (07/03/2000) - Does Microsoft Corp.'s .Net initiative usher in a new paradigm of computing? Does it really signal "a new era of personal empowerment and opportunity for consumers, businesses and software developers," as the press release would have us believe?

Take this one paragraph from the introduction to the white paper laying out the .Net project (www.microsoft.com/presspass/topics/f2k/default.asp):

"Despite bountiful bandwidth, information is still locked up in centralized databases, with 'gatekeepers' controlling access. Users must rely on the Web server to perform every operation, just like the old time-sharing model. Web sites are isolated islands and cannot communicate with each other on a user's behalf in any meaningful way."

Updated with today's buzz words, this is merely a paraphrase of what was said in the 1940s by Vannevar Bush, in the 1950s by Doug Englebart, in the 1960s by Ted Nelson and in the 1980s by Tim Berners-Lee. Each, in his own way, looked into the future and saw the world's information seamlessly linked so that each of us could view, modify and add to it in ways that best suited our own working habits, study methods and writing styles.

Bush's Memex, Englebart's Augment, Nelson's Xanadu and even Berners-Lee's WWW either never happened or else were implemented in ways unforeseen by them. Yet every implementation has been seen as one more step into the era Bush proposed with his remarkable "As We May Think" story in the Atlantic Monthly.

Even as new steps are added in pursuit of the final goal it seems that we can never reach the end or even a point where the end is in sight. Sometimes the quest itself becomes all-consuming as was (and is) the case with Xanadu so that reaching the end point would almost seem anticlimactic and (in subtle ways) is avoided as much as possible. Sometimes the vision is perverted - as happened to the WWW - where flash, glitz and entertainment are considered the high points of the experience.

Microsoft has now taken the torch and hopes to "meld computing and communications in revolutionary new ways; offer every developer the tools to transform the Web and all other aspects of the computing experience; and enable businesses, knowledge workers and consumers to employ technology on their own terms." Pardon me, but I've heard all this before and I'll believe it when I see it.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com.

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