Microsoft .Net touches all corners of the Web

If Microsoft delivers on its elaborate .Net initiative, launched June 22, after a delay caused by the DoJ ruling, businesses, software developers and end users can expect a stream of new products and services from the software maker in the months and years ahead.

As Microsoft chairman Bill Gates explained, Microsoft's .Net effort will essentially turn the Internet into a big development platform on which a variety of services and information can be distributed and shared among devices including PCs, smart phones and handheld computers.

Microsoft will provide client and server software to access the .Net services, which might include calendars that are shared and updated automatically, advanced messaging and notification services, and productivity applications that are rented over the Internet. Microsoft will also offer "building block" services, such as its Passport user authentication system, which can be used by other companies to create online services of their own.

Finally, Microsoft will release "dot- net" versions of its software products that include new interface features to help users interact with the services, and advanced support for technologies like XML, a key enabler in the .Net platform.

At least one analyst credited the company for the breadth and depth of the announcements.

"Microsoft has a chequered past in terms of going public too early" with some of their broader initiatives, said Scott Lundstrom, chief technology officer with AMR Research. "I think it has learnt its lesson from past mistakes. This is very together for a Microsoft rollout."

It remains to be seen whether Microsoft will deliver fully on its vision, which has been seen as an effort to maintain a central role in the industry as the focus of computing moves beyond the PC. It also remains to be seen how US federal regulators, in the wake of the government's antitrust case against the company, will react to a plan that gives Microsoft software and technologies an increasingly pervasive role on the Internet.

Following are some of the products, services and tools that the company outlined:

* Windows .Net: the next generation of the Windows operating system client, Windows.Net will incorporate a new user interface that includes speech and voice recognition. The OS will also include rich support for XML and other technologies that provide access to applications and services written for the .Net platform. Version 1.0, with some of the .Net capabilities, is due out next year, although the full .Net client operating system won't be available until 2002 or beyond.

* Windows .Net Server - the server operating system isn't due for release until 2002 or beyond. The .Net server will include the ability to "federate" information across devices. When a user logs on to the Internet from a device such as a mobile phone, for example, Microsoft Passport will identify who the user is, and the Microsoft .Net server will gather the user's latest data and serve it to the device.

Server applications including SQL, Exchange and BizTalk will also be transformed along the .Net theme over the next two years.

* Office.Net - due in 2002 or later, Office.Net will have a new user interface that combines Web browsing, document authoring and communications into a single environment, allowing users to interact with and annotate documents in new ways. Collaboration services will let people in different locations share access to documents. Office.Net will be rented as a hosted software suite over the Web.

* Devices: Microsoft is working with Samsung Electronics to develop a mobile phone that runs Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser with XML support, Gates said.

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