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July 11, 2002—In this issue:
- Microsoft Tightens the Hotmail Screws
2. .NET NEWS AND VIEWS
- Microsoft Posts New Web Development Tool
3. DOT-TECH PERSPECTIVES
- Assemblies in .NET Applications
- Get Kudos and a Free Trip to SQL Server Magazine LIVE! in Orlando!
- The Enterprise-Management Solutions You've Been Searching For!
- Event Highlight: VSLive! 2002 Orlando
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Practice Tests for .NET Certification
- Submit Top Product Ideas
5. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, news editor, [email protected])
My wife isn't a technical person, and having observed the way she interacts with the computer, I'm beginning to wonder whether her way of life isn't saner than the one I've chosen. She uses MSN Hotmail as her primary email service, a fact that should set off warning signals in any tech-savvy person's mind. But my wife is able to use Hotmail successfully because she doesn't sweat the small stuff, such as the ever-decreasing set of capabilities that Microsoft offers Hotmail users for free. About 6 months ago, when it became obvious that keeping her Hotmail Inbox below Microsoft's free storage limit was going to be difficult, she reviewed the options and decided to pay for MSN Extra Storage.
Extra Storage, in case you're not familiar with the service, was beta tested as Hotmail Plus and first revealed publicly in .NET UPDATE last year. The service costs $19.95 a year (when my wife signed up, an early-adopter rate of only $12.95 existed), and its original benefit was that it provided as much as 10MB of extra server-based storage for email and attachments—far more than the 2MB of space that users with the basic service got for free. When it first debuted last October, Extra Storage offered one other benefit: It let users work with attachments as large as 1.5MB, as compared with the basic service's free 1MB attachment limit.
The attachment feature suggests that the name Extra Storage isn't as descriptive as, say, Hotmail Plus might have been, because the service adds more value than simply providing more storage space. And since last October, Microsoft has been tightening its grip on free Hotmail accounts even more, paring down the free version's capabilities and making it harder for users to forgo signing on to the subscription-based Extra Storage service.
First, Microsoft gave notice that Hotmail users who didn't access their account within a 30-day period would lose the account, along with any associated email, attachments, and contact information. Carrying out this restriction has helped Microsoft more accurately gauge how much server and software resources it needs to dedicate to Hotmail, which currently services over 230 million people. The decision didn't sit well with people who infrequently access email, of course (although I don't think that asking people to occasionally access their account is unreasonable—Netscape and Yahoo! have similar policies with their free email services). Users who opt for Extra Storage don't need to worry about their accounts being deleted if they access them infrequently. That freedom is another benefit of the service.
Then, in early June, Microsoft shut down a service that lets users automatically forward non-Hotmail email to their Hotmail email accounts, letting users check mail from a Web browser—a nice feature for vacationers and others who can't access their PC temporarily. Originally, Extra Storage users were to receive email forwarding as part of the service. However, after some bad press and complaints from angry users, Microsoft has returned the email forwarding service to free Hotmail account holders, at least for now.
Just last week, Microsoft offered users another incentive to choose Extra Storage. Noting that summer vacations often make it difficult to keep up with email, Microsoft wrote its Hotmail subscribers suggesting that they opt for Extra Storage because the company will freeze the accounts of users who exceed the 2MB storage limit and randomly delete email until the account Inbox takes up less than 2MB of space. Yes, you read that right: randomly delete. "Don't let your \[Hotmail\] account go over the 2MB storage limit," the company wrote. "Inboxes have a way of filling up fast, so be sure to check every so often and delete unwanted or large messages. If you don't, the Hotmail Janitor will randomly delete messages until your account is reduced to 2MB."
Sounds a bit like extortion, doesn't it? In fact, something I dislike about Microsoft's Extra Storage marketing effort is that the company almost always relies on scare tactics having to do with lost email. Such a strategy is not the way to garner customer trust, which is crucial when you're dealing with mission-critical data such as email. Microsoft has a right to charge for features it feels warrant a charge, but rather than strong-arm its customers into paying for advanced features, the company would do better to explain why those customers shouldn't dump Hotmail for the competition.
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2. .NET NEWS AND VIEWS
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, [email protected])
ASP.NET coders will want to check out ASP.NET Web Matrix, a free new development tool that includes a WYSIWYG development environment, Microsoft SQL Server management capabilities, and mobile-application creation features, all wrapped up in a tiny 1.2MB download of managed code. While I was at Microsoft for a technical workshop, I learned that the company will use ASP.NET Web Matrix to test features intended for the next Visual Studio (VS) version. For more information, see the ASP.NET Web site.
(contributed by Christa Anderson, [email protected])
I'm still sorting through replies to my call for real-world .NET applications. (If you've got more, email them to me and add to the pile.) While I'm doing that, let's take a look at how .NET applications organize the code they use. Logically, the .NET organizational unit (OU) is the namespace. Physically, the OU is the assembly.
Let's start with assemblies. I touched on the assembly concept in a previous column. An assembly is a collection of types and resources, typically stored as a single .exe or .dll file. (Technically, an assembly can span more than one file, but most assemblies don't.) All types in the .NET Framework must exist in assemblies; the Common Language Runtime (CLR) doesn't support types outside of assemblies. Also, all the types defined in a single assembly are unique to that assembly; a type can have the same name as another type, but if those types are in different assemblies, they're not the same. Each time you create any kind of application or service with Visual Basic .NET, you're building an assembly. Assemblies can be static or dynamic.
An assembly isn't just a file with executable code, however: It's also the tool you use to establish security, type identity, reference, version, and deployment boundaries for the application. The assembly's manifest stores all this information.
The security boundaries in the manifest specify the (optional) rules under which an assembly can run. By default, assemblies aren't secured, but the .NET Framework supports two mechanisms for assembly security. First, signing an assembly with a strong name adds public key encryption to the assembly, which lets you make sure that the code is what you think it is and hasn't been replaced by another assembly with the same name. Second, you can protect an assembly with certificates, which gives you a greater degree of granularity over the security associated with the assembly. For example, a security policy for a particular secured assembly might let the assembly execute but not write to the hard disk.
To avoid name confusion, the type identity information associates a particular type's name with the assembly it belongs to. Think of the type name as the type's first name and the assembly name as the type's surname, which distinguishes it from other types with the same first name.
The reference scope information helps the assembly find types and resources outside the assembly and lists any other assemblies that the current one depends on. The version information describes any version dependencies for the assembly. The default settings for the version information ensure that the .NET application attempts to run only by using the files that it has been tested with, thus avoiding DLL mismatches.
Finally, the deployment information helps the application to be as thin as possible by downloading from the server only the components that the application needs to start. This setup is equivalent to your favorite word processor starting with only the pieces it needs to display and accept text, delaying loading a spell checker until you request that tool.
I've given you a high-level view of assemblies and the role of the manifest, and I'll refer to this information in future columns. Those columns will explore these functions in more detail.
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September 14 though 19, 2002
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6. NEW AND IMPROVED
(contributed by Carolyn Mader, [email protected])
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