Microsoft Stakes Future on .NET

REDMOND, WASH. (06/23/2000) - Microsoft Corp. bet its future this week on .Net, its vision of software services that live on the Internet. But initial reactions were skeptical, with users and analysts noting that the core technologies are unproven and that many key components are years from delivery.

Microsoft.Net - previously referred to as Next Generation Windows Services - is a layer of software on the server and the client. It provides an environment for all kinds of client devices to access services that live on the Web or on enterprise servers. Microsoft said .Net will work on Windows and other operating systems, though it didn't specify which ones or when they would be supported.

On the server side, the upcoming Visual Studio 7 will provide tools to make applications available as services using XML and Simple Object Access Protocol.

Microsoft will also offer some of these services itself.

On the client, .Net provides a sparse browserlike interface without menu bars.

A key concept in the interface is the "universal canvas," which eliminates the borders between applications. For instance, spreadsheet and word processing features are available inside e-mail documents. .Net will also support handwriting and speech recognition.

"This will affect every part of application code that gets written. It affects the user interface," said Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates. "There's no part of Microsoft that won't get touched."

Analysts were upbeat. "I haven't seen any [competing vision] that is as all-encompassing," said Roger Kay, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Steve Kleynhans, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Caledon, Ontario, echoed that opinion. But, he said, "getting there from here is going to be very difficult."

Not There Yet

Although Version 1.0 of the .Net client for Windows, dubbed Windows.Net, will ship next year, the server side as well as the "complete" .Net user experience won't be ready until 2002 or after, executives said. Kleynhans said it may in fact take until 2004 to deliver on .Net.

That's a long wait in Internet time, said Mohammad Rashid, chief technology officer at Goinvest.com Inc. in Santa Monica, California. "We are building applications today, so we have to go with a mature standard," said Rashid, who is building an online trading system on Enterprise Java Beans. If .Net does become prevalent, "it should be able to talk to other object technologies.

That's the promise of XML," said Rashid.

Others voiced doubts about the development model.

"I don't think there is enough knowledge around XML and what its abilities are yet for Microsoft to be planning something like this," said Forrest Newstrom, manager of systems and programming at the Alaska USA Federal Credit Union.

Newstrom said he will investigate .Net but is skeptical about it.

Deepak Amin, CEO of vJungle Inc., an application service provider that offers an integrated environment for small businesses, said he is convinced that XML will prevail - but not necessarily Microsoft's vision of it. Developers may be hesitant to plug Microsoft-owned services into their own Web applications. "It raises issues of privacy and of ownership of the client," said Amin. "It's certainly not a given that Microsoft will succeed."

There is also a widespread fear that, despite Microsoft's professed support for open standards, adopters will still get locked into a proprietary technology.

"If they do like they have done in other areas, they will try to skew it in their own best interest," said James Harvey, vice president of technology at Visible Markets Inc. in Boston.

"A lot depends on how [Microsoft goes] about forming partnerships," said Kay, who added that he believes .Net's chances of success are "better than 50%."

Belief in Microsoft

Some said they believe Microsoft will prevail. "Microsoft is such a force, it's hard for the rest of the industry not to go in the same direction," said Bart Fitzgerald, vice president and CIO at Central Programs Inc. in Bethany, Missouri.

Frank Huster, a technology manager/architect at Wells Fargo Services Co. in Concord, California, said he's very interested in tracking Microsoft's .Net platform, even though his company has made a heavy commitment to enterprise Java. "We're keeping our eye on both the Microsoft platform and the [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] platform," he said. "We don't want to put all our eggs in one basket."

Consultant Chris Dickey of CDickey.com in San Diego said .Net will probably be a hot topic at a developer's conference Microsoft is hosting the week of July 10. "The details will probably come out," he said.

Patrick Thibodeau, Carol Sliwa and Christine McGeever contributed to this story.

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