.Net plants flag in south

What's probably the southernmost Microsoft .Net outpost in the world has been established in Dunedin, New Zealand, where users of the development platform have met for the first time.

Chris Auld, of e-business specialist E-media, says about two dozen people showed up for the inaugural .Net user group meeting on April 10. A handful were commercial developers, one was a part-time developer and polytech lecturer, some were post-graduate university students and others were their teachers.

Auld says there was interest in the fate of projects undertaken by early adopters of the platform.

"I gave them a developer's overview, explaining how .Net differs from other platforms they were familiar with."

E-media has real-life .Net experience to impart, Auld says, having used the development framework to integrate its Marketeer e-commerce platform with MYOB accounting software.

"We think it's a good bit of kit and we're a reasonably conservative shop," Auld says, although "a Microsoft shop from a while back."

.Net does away with the integration difficulties that were common among Web developers from the mid-90s on, says Auld. Typically they would improvise using HTML and XML, only for "things to come to grief trying to get stuff into and out of firewalls."

".Net is designed to bring together applications scattered all over the Internet."

Auld says the user group will have an academic bias, in line with the fact that most attendees at the inaugural meeting were from non-commercial environments.

One of those there, Andrew Sewell, is from both. His day job is information systems development lecturer at Otago Polytechnic and after hours he does software development.

Sewell says he's in the process of converting the course he teaches from Visual Basic 6 to .Net, in response to student demand. That means 30 to 50 Bachelor of Information Technology graduates a year will be emerging with .Net skills.

"Many students are looking forward to me teaching it," Sewell says.

Part of their interest can be put down to a poster which appeared in the school of information technology, apparently at Microsoft's instigation. It states that .Net developers are in demand worldwide and urges students to enquire about .Net courses at their institution.

Sewell says the course he teaches is less about the platform and more about object-oriented programming. His experience of .Net is that it doesn't require the same workarounds to function in a truly object-oriented fashion that Visual Basic 6 forces on users.

Sewell, who says he has a client-server development job on his plate at present for which .Net looks appropriate, hopes to rub shoulders with more experienced .Net developers at the user group.

E-media's Auld, a self-confessed portable gadget freek, says the release in a week of Visual Studio .Net 2003 promises to make the platform more useful for developers of embedded applications. It's greater support for embedded code means applications for devices like the Pocket PC will be able to be written more economically.

"The run-time carries a whole lot of functionality that you'd otherwise have to write."