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December 12, 2002—In this issue:
- Kinko's Scores .NET Success Story
2. .NET NEWS AND VIEWS
- First Yukon Beta Set for First Quarter 2003
3. DOT-TECH PERSPECTIVES
- Controlling Application Appearance
- Planning on Getting Certified? Make Sure to Pick Up Our New eBook!
- The Microsoft Mobility Tour Is Coming Soon to a City Near You!
5. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Develop Web Services
- Submit Top Product Ideas
6. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, news editor, [email protected])
During the 3 years since Microsoft announced its Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS) initiative, which the company later renamed .NET, success stories based on the technology have been few and far between. Until recently, I had heard little about compelling third-party solutions based on .NET, despite the fact that Microsoft's .NET development suite, Visual Studio .NET, had been available to programmers for almost a year. But that all changed with a Web service demo I received at COMDEX Fall 2002 last month.
The service is simple enough. Microsoft and document-printing superstore Kinko's have created a remote printing service that lets Microsoft Office users print documents to any of Kinko's 1175 stores nationwide. This service might not seem compelling—after all, Kinko's already offers a similar service that lets you send documents to the company for printing through email and the Web. But the new Web service—due in mid-2003—integrates directly into the Print dialog box in Office, offering users a seamless way to print remotely. Furthermore, the service integrates with the Microsoft MapPoint.NET service to let users locate the nearest Kinko's store. Finally, the service integrates with .NET Alerts to notify customers when their print jobs are accepted or completed.
To create the service, Microsoft and Kinko's used the Office XP Web Services Toolkit, an add-on for Visual Studio (VS) that helps developers extend Office in unique ways. Installing the service adds a new option, Kinko's Remote Printing, under File, Print, Printing Service. Clicking the option launches a unique Print dialog box. This dialog box provides a map from MapPoint.NET that displays the Kinko's locations nearest the user. You can also specify Kinko's locations in other cities to see maps of those locations, a useful option for business travelers. Imagine a scenario in which you are in Seattle but need hundreds or thousands of pages printed for a business trip in Miami, Florida. Instead of printing the documents in Seattle, you might use this service to send the print job to a Kinko's in Miami. Because Kinko's offers free delivery, the company will deliver your print job to your hotel. Nice.
The Kinko's Print dialog box also offers various options for binding, paper type, and other specifications, and lets you select the time and date you want the job completed. You can select options for how and when you want the service to notify you of specific events in the print job's lifetime. For example, you might want to receive a .NET Alert through Windows Messenger when the print job is accepted or completed.
Behind the scenes, the new Web service is all .NET. Kinko's uses Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) messages to carry XML-encoded versions of your documents to the Kinko's server system, which runs a heterogeneous mix of Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server) 2003, Windows 2000 Server, and UNIX systems. Daniel Connors, senior vice president of Kinko's corporate strategy, told me that the .NET technologies underlying this service let Kinko's continue to use its existing infrastructure while rolling out Win.NET Server in areas in which the technology makes sense. "We're excited about this because it's in our corporate DNA to make technology accessible and available to people of all technical literacy levels," he said. "That's what we're about—making this technology available to folks and making it easy. You don't have to leave the application, and that's a huge convenience. For customers, convenience is the number-one factor when choosing a print or copy solution."
Another concern, of course, is price. But Connors told me that printing through the Office Web service would either cost the same as or be cheaper than today's in-store and Internet-based solutions. Cheaper? "Those jobs are cheaper to produce," he explained, "because the documents are sent digitally and we can print from the original." I wish he were in charge of ATM fees in this country.
Not surprisingly, Kinko's is using the new service as a competitive advantage over other print centers, which the company can do because its 1175 stores are centrally owned and operated. And in a recent conversation I had with Neil Charney, director of .NET Platform Strategy at Microsoft, he sounded excited to have a tangible Web service to show off.
"This is a great proof point for .NET and Web services, and it gives Kinko's a competitive advantage in the market," he told me. "We've been talking about Web services a lot, but we always leave it with a call to action about how companies can work with Web services. This is an example of a company—not a software company—that recognized the value of the technology, took its core service, and extended it to a Web service."
When the service ships in mid-2003, it will be available only to Office users, although Microsoft and Kinko's are looking at developing a more generic solution that would work with any Windows application in the future. "It's a nontrivial challenge, actually," Charney said, "with a lot going on in the background. We're taking a phased approach."
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2. .NET NEWS AND VIEWS
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, [email protected])
Microsoft is prepping the first beta release of Microsoft SQL Server 2003 (code-named Yukon) for release in February or March 2003 and will use feedback from the beta testers to determine the final release schedule. The long-awaited Yukon code base will usher in a new era on Microsoft's software-development roadmap: The company will incorporate the software into other projects, including the Windows Future Storage (WinFS) file system in the next Windows release (code-named Longhorn) and the data store for a future Microsoft Exchange Server release (code-named Kodiak). Microsoft will also issue the next major release of Visual Studio .NET to coincide with Yukon; a minor release (code-named Everett) will ship in early 2003 to coincide with Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server) 2003.
Microsoft will deliver Yukon beta 1 to only 1500 testers, although a future release will be more widely available. Alpha code is being used inhouse and with select close partners, the company said. A key advance in this release is the ability to code stored procedures in any Visual Studio .NET-compatible programming language, thanks to full compatibility with the.NET Common Language Runtime (CLR). This feature will make SQL Server more accessible and useful for developers.
Before Microsoft finalizes Yukon, however, the company will ship the final version of SQL Server 2000 64-bit Edition (code-named Liberty). The company will finish this project in time for the April 2003 release of Win.NET Server, which includes various 64-bit editions.
3. DOT-TECH PERSPECTIVES
(contributed by Christa Anderson, [email protected])
In the July 11, 2002, Dot-Tech Perspectives, "Assemblies in .NET Applications" (see the URL below), I discussed how applications based on the .NET architecture use assemblies and manifests to run. Assemblies, as you'll recall, are the executable code for these applications, whereas manifests contain settings that control the application's presentation: security settings, versioning information, and the like. However, one thing I didn't mention is that the manifest can also control the way an application looks on the screen.
If you've used any Windows OS for longer than 5 minutes and have an ounce of curiosity, you might wonder how an application's manifest affects its appearance. After all, if you're running applications on Windows XP, you can change everything—even the appearance of the control buttons in application windows—from the Control Panel Display applet. However, what you might not have noticed is that not all applications respond in the same way to the settings that you choose. When you turn on the XP theme, for example, some applications will use the bright red and blue controls that characterize XP (unless you're a curmudgeon as I am and switched to Windows Classic View when you first started your XP machine). Some applications, however, won't use these controls. They'll use some of the color and appearance settings that you can control from the Display applet, but not all of them, even if those settings are specified in the theme you've loaded.
Why don't themes apply uniformly to all applications? The answer lies with the visual styles, not with the theme. Themes, a set of configuration settings contained in a .theme file that an application's Independent Software Vendor (ISV) provides, have been around since the Microsoft Plus! Pack for Windows 95. Themes include not only visual settings but also sounds. Visual styles, which Microsoft introduced with XP, have a subtler but more encompassing effect by determining the controls available to Windows applications. All applications running on XP have a nonclient area, which includes the window frame and scroll bars. The rest of the application's graphical interface, including Windows controls, is its client area. The graphical display engine applies a visual style to the nonclient area by default, but not to the client area. So, an application's title bar changes with the theme, but the control buttons for the application's window (e.g., Close or Minimize) might not change if the application isn't configured to use visual styles. Visual styles can affect an application's client area only if that application refers to the library of controls in ComCtl32.dll 6.0 or later, which is available only with XP and later OSs. Otherwise, the application uses the earlier version of the control library that's available to earlier Windows versions.
So, how do you make ComCtl32.dll available to an application? You—or, more precisely, an application's developer—set this mechanism in one way for applications that can use third-party extensions (such as plugins) and in another way for those that can't. However, regardless of the application's structure, the purpose of an application's manifest is to describe the components that are required to run the application, including any dependencies. In this case, the dependencies will include the library of visual styles. The application's type doesn't affect the structure of the manifest—the type just affects the code that the application needs to identify the manifest.
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5. NEW AND IMPROVED
(contributed by Carolyn Mader, [email protected])
O'Reilly & Associates released "Programming .NET Web Services," a book by Alex Ferrara and Matthew MacDonald that teaches you the skills you need to develop Web services on the .NET platform. The tutorial was written to guide experienced Visual Basic (VB) or C# programmers through the step-by-step process of creating Web services. You can learn .NET Framework features that make it easier to create Web services, including the Common Language Runtime (CLR) and the namespaces you need to use in .NET programming. The 396-page book costs $39.95. To order, contact O'Reilly & Associates at 707-827-7000, 800-998-9938, or [email protected]
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