Commentary: .NET – The newest monopoly or a viable platform?

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It seems everyone in the IT world has at least heard of Microsoft’s new .NET platform, but does anyone really know what this nice little catch phrase means? Well, even Bill Gates has admitted that he feels that Microsoft has not done a very good job of communicating what this whole .NET thing is all about. The reason for this is the term .NET is being applied to a wide variety of different technologies that all work together to accomplish a single goal:

“To make information available any time, any place and on any device.”

It would be fair to say that Microsoft is using .NET as a marketing term for just about every product coming out of their doors. The result has been confusion about what .NET means.

It doesn’t help that .NET is still a work in progress. The next version of Microsoft’s server software (replacing Windows 2000 server) will be called .NET Server but it won’t be available until first quarter 2003. But all of this muddiness doesn’t mean that we should just give up or make cynical comments about Microsoft ‘Vaporware.’

Some things are very clear when we look at .NET. We see some key phrases repeated everywhere: “Web Services,” “Web Applications,” and “Standards Based” are probably the most common. If we can understand the key phrases, and where Microsoft is going with them, then we will understand .NET.

Explaining the term “Web Services” without getting highly technical is a bit challenging, but here goes: Web services are reusable software components that enable distributed computing over and through the Internet. You may ask, “Why is this a big deal?” Well, it is a big deal because it enables me to share software that is running on my computer with you, without you having a copy of that software. If I allow it, your computer can just ask my computer to do something for it, and it happens. Of course this is not a new idea, but the ability to do it over the Internet (and have it consistently work) is.

“Web Applications” are not in any way new. You’re probably already familiar with Web pages and websites. What is exciting about .NET Web applications is how easy and fast it is to create dynamic websites using Visual Studio .NET. Visual Studio .NET (a.k.a. VS.NET) is the latest version of Microsoft’s basket of tools for software development. For Web developers, it feels a lot like the Promised Land. VS.NET gives us ASP.NET, and ASP.NET gives us the ability to drag and drop our websites into existence like never before. For tech-geeks only: It’s not just drag and drop in visual elements, I’m talking drag and drop field validation, etc.

And finally “Standards Based.” Nobody really expects Microsoft to write software that makes operating systems other than Windows sound appealing, however, they have put a surprising amount of effort into making it possible for non-Windows folks to use software built on the .NET platform. Again, I could wax extremely techy at this point, but in a nutshell everything that .NET sends through the Internet is encoded using XML (eXtensible Markup Language). XML is an open standard which means that non-Windows computers can understand and even actively participate in the .NET world too.

So this all sounds great but what does it all mean? It means that Microsoft is making it easier to write powerful software that takes advantage of the spread of the Internet. And this in turn means that businesses who take advantage of the power of the .NET platform will have lower development costs and more efficient business processes. Cynics will probably say that it is just another attempt to drive their market share higher by capitalizing on the work that others have done. Perhaps it is, but if they can grow their business (and make it more profitable) by helping you grow your business (and make it more profitable), who can blame them?

Arran Huckstep is the chief technology officer for TechWise in Colorado Springs. Arran has worked in the technology industry for 11 years as a senior consultant, instructor and author of course curriculum for TechWise. Arran can be reached at 719/591-9966 or via e-mail at arran@techwisecs.com. To learn more about TechWise and the latest .NET training they offer, visit them online at www.TechWiseCS.com.