Uncertainty surrounds Microsoft's .Net plans

Analysts and users alike raised questions - and eyebrows - in reaction to Microsoft's .Net vision last week. And industry watchers are unsure how the new online software services plan will affect the future of Windows 2000 and Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) and how the Internet services will be licensed.

Microsoft describes .Net as a platform for next-generation Internet applications. It will include new development tools, such as Visual Studio.Net; a new user interface, called the .Net User Experience; and Microsoft-hosted "building-block services", including Identity and Personalisation, all to be delivered over the next two or more years (CW, July3, p10, 12).

But industry analysts said Microsoft must prove that developing applications using .Net will be faster and easier than other approaches such as Enterprise JavaBeans. That will in large part depend on the tools Microsoft is expected to demonstrate to developers at a professional developers' conference this month: Visual Studio 7, which is due next year, and the future Visual Studio.Net follow-up.

Also at issue is the fact that Microsoft has given no indication of how it will price its hosted building-block services. "If a developer can get the work done faster by using a .Net service, that's a great advantage for him," said Sam Patterson, CEO of ComponentSource, an online marketplace for software components.

"[But] companies need to know what this will cost them," Patterson added.

Others worry about the security implications of depending on Microsoft-hosted services. But Gene McNair, e-business systems administrator at Schneider Automation, said he would consider using Microsoft's proposed identity service for his company's Web site aimed at partners and customers. "It's not really conceptually different from going to VeriSign for digital certificates," McNair said.

Another uncertainty is the fate of Microsoft technologies such as DCOM, which some say is largely superseded by Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), the Microsoft-driven proposed standard for program-to-program communication that is to be the "glue" between various .Net services.

Microsoft is "de-emphasising COM," said James Kobielus, an analyst at The Burton Group. "Very few people are using DCOM for the Internet."

But Dwight Davis, an analyst at Summit Strategies, said Microsoft is unlikely to abandon developers who have already chosen DCOM.