.NET UPDATE, March 20, 2003


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March 20, 2003--In this issue:

1. COMMENTARY - What's .NET in Microsoft Office 2003?

2. DOT-TECH PERSPECTIVES - Making .NET Applications Platform-Independent

3. ANNOUNCEMENTS - Windows & .NET Magazine Connections: Win a Florida Vacation - Microsoft Tech-Ed 2003 Europe, June 30 - July 4, Barcelona

4. NEW AND IMPROVED - Integrate Dynamic Content with .NET Applications - Learn to Program by Using Visual Basic .NET

5. CONTACT US - See this section for a list of ways to contact us.




(contributed by Paul Thurrott, news editor, [email protected])

* WHAT'S .NET IN MICROSOFT OFFICE 2003? A few years back, an internal struggle raged inside Microsoft, and few people outside the company have heard about it. At the time, the software giant was busy trying to ".NET-ify" all its products, and although adding a .NET suffix to every product name the company created sounded like a great idea to the marketing department, the product developers were more concerned with how they might leverage .NET Web services in their applications and servers. For the Office team, this task entailed figuring out ways in which Web services could integrate with core applications such as Word, Excel, and Outlook. Today, we can see a little of this functionality in Office XP's smart tag and task pane functionality.

However, a team at Microsoft dubbed NetDocs had a more far-reaching idea. Instead of simply retrofitting its aging Office products with new functionality, the NetDocs team proposed building a new component-based Office suite with pervasive online hooks to Web services. In late 2000, NetDocs was the .NET poster child within Microsoft, and the plan was simple: The project would deliver office productivity software on a subscription basis, an idea that was still new back then but seemed to be an inevitability. The plan was to offer NetDocs only as a hosted service on the Internet, not as a shrink-wrapped software product.

The technology behind NetDocs included all the familiar .NET suspects, such as an integrated workspace based on XML. However, several factors combined to kill the NetDocs project. First, the notion of software services on such a grand scale proved to be ahead of its time; even now, you can't subscribe to any major software services online. Second, interim tests of Microsoft software subscription services were disasters: A test of a yearly subscription to Office XP in Australia and other locations was so confusing to consumers that Microsoft eventually had to give each of the subscribers free full versions of Office. And finally, Microsoft's corporate culture just couldn't withstand the infighting that resulted when a team outside of the Office team began working on NetDocs. With more than 50 percent of the company's revenue stream behind it, the Office team fought back against NetDocs and won: The NetDocs team was disbanded, and the technology was moved to the Office team.

Now Office 2003 is coming: Microsoft recently released Office 2003 Beta 2 to more than 500,000 testers worldwide. Does Office 2003 contain any .NET-related components? And does Office 2003 contain any remnants of the NetDocs project?

To find out, I examined the beta 2 release, which comprises 15 CD-ROMs and several applications, services, and server products. The main Microsoft Office 2003 suite includes Microsoft Office Word 2003, Microsoft Office Excel 2003, Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003, and Microsoft Office Access 2003. The wider Microsoft Office System includes Microsoft Office 2003, Microsoft Office FrontPage 2003, Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003 (formerly code-named XDocs), Microsoft Office OneNote 2003, Microsoft Office Publisher 2003, and Microsoft Office Visio 2003, among other products. The company has yet to determine final pricing or the makeup of various editions of Office 2003 that it will release.

A few .NET features stand out in the Office applications. First, Word and Excel can now save documents and spreadsheets in standards-based XML format in a manner that preserves the applications' formatting and special features. So, you can share Word and Excel documents with non-Office users, and even documents that are edited in non-Microsoft applications on other platforms will retain their original formatting when you open them again in Office Word 2003. In addition, many of the Office applications sport new XML-based task panes, which are now fully programmable. Developers and administrators can use these task panes--which occupy free real estate on the right side of the application interface--to create smart documents that provide interactivity with underlying logic and, if needed, access to Web services. Microsoft provides a few cool smart documents features in Office 2003, including a Research Task Pane that connects to online dictionaries, thesauri, and encyclopedias. But companies could use this feature to connect workers with back-end systems, such as product inventories and corporate contact lists.

The Office team built one of the new applications, InfoPath, on the notion of XML interoperability. InfoPath is a forms package that administrators, developers, and power users can use to create custom input and data-retrievable forms that connect to back-end systems such as SQL Server, Oracle, SAP, or any other data source that can output or input XML. The beauty of InfoPath is that it's agnostic: Users get all the comforts and familiarity of a standard Office application on the client, including features such as spelling and grammar checking, while being able to connect to various heterogeneous data sources. Best of all, users will no longer need to learn how to interact with all the bizarre front-end clients that these servers previously required.

Microsoft also predictably added XML features to FrontPage, Microsoft's Web authoring tool. You can now use FrontPage XML Tools to write Extensible Style Language Transformations (XSLT) documents directly in the FrontPage WYSIWYG Design view and access live XML data sources when creating interactive Web sites.

Although some of the features and functionality in Office 2003 are exciting, the idea behind NetDocs clearly is dead. Office 2003 is very much a standard office productivity suite, and Microsoft continues to integrate new functionality directly into its classic line of applications. This approach isn't bad as it stands, but the notion was exciting that an established company might shake things up a bit and build a totally new Office product from scratch. A rebuilt, .NET-based version of Office won't happen any time soon, but if you're interested in XML and Web services integration, Office 2003 is still an interesting line of products.


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(contributed by Christa Anderson, [email protected])

* MAKING .NET APPLICATIONS PLATFORM-INDEPENDENT If you've read my past several .NET UPDATE articles about the .NET Framework, you've no doubt gleaned that .NET applications are supposed to be more or less platform-independent, or at least platform-agnostic. They are--to a point. Unfortunately, applications that are platform-independent have certain platform and browser requirements, which means that earlier versions of Windows--or other OSs--won't fully support some platform-independent applications. It's another version of the Model T story: You can have any color you want, as long as it's black.

One way to get around this limitation is to do what users have done for years when confronted with applications that won't run on the current client platform: Run the applications on a terminal server and let users connect to those applications through RDP sessions for native terminal services or ICA sessions for terminal servers that use Citrix MetaFrame.

Windows Terminal Services provides a way to run applications on a shared server by displaying the application output in a window on the client desktop. This approach is similar to remote access applications such as Symantec's pcAnywhere, but the Windows Terminal Services solution is more responsive. Each connection to the shared server is separate from all the others, so users don't interfere with one another--they can't even see that other people are using the server. Unlike .NET applications, the RDP and ICA display protocols are very platform-independent. Microsoft's RDP will run on any Win32 OS or on Apple Computer's Mac OS X (and third-party Java and Linux RDP clients are available), and Citrix has versions of the ICA client for just about any OS.

Citrix is ramping up to provide integration with .NET applications with its new product positioning strategy, which it announced March 18. Citrix announced that it will extend its flagship MetaFrame XP Presentation Server "into a suite of products that addresses end-to-end enterprise access requirements." I gathered from this announcement that Citrix doesn't want people to think they have to choose between Windows or UNIX applications published from a shared server or Web applications running in a portal.

All the pieces of the suite aren't yet finished--the launch for the next feature release coincides with that of Windows Server 2003, and Citrix will release the next version of the newly named Citrix MetaFrame Secure Access Manager (formerly code-named NFuse Elite) in the same time frame. For application integration, one interesting piece of the suite is Citrix MetaFrame Password Manager, expected to be ready late in second quarter 2003. Password Manager is essentially a template that each user can employ to store any passwords that they regularly use. (For security reasons, you can make Password Manager store as many or as few passwords as you like--you're not forced to implement single sign-on--SSO--if you use Password Manager.) .NET applications will be among those whose passwords you can store.

Any time a new way of delivering applications emerges, questions arise about whether the new method will wipe out the old, tried-and-true, methods. But just as PCs didn't kill off the mainframe and Terminal Services hasn't killed off PCs, .NET applications probably won't kill off Terminal Services. Instead, Terminal Services represents a way of bridging the requirement gap for .NET applications by eliminating the necessity for clients that want to use them to conform to a specific version of a browser or OS.



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(contributed by Carolyn Mader, [email protected])

* INTEGRATE DYNAMIC CONTENT WITH .NET APPLICATIONS Crystal Decisions released Crystal Reports 9.0, which contains new functionality that lets application developers create and integrate dynamic content from most data with .NET, Java, and COM applications. With Crystal Reports, end users can view, interact with, and modify reports as well as access and navigate report elements with a wireless device. Crystal Reports is available in standard, professional, developer, and advanced editions. Crystal Reports 9.0 Standard costs $195, Crystal Reports 9.0 Professional costs $495, Crystal Reports 9.0 Developer costs $595, and Crystal Reports 9.0 Advanced costs $1995. Contact Crystal Decisions at 604-681-3435 or 800-877-2340. http://www.crystaldecisions.com * LEARN TO PROGRAM BY USING VISUAL BASIC .NET O'Reilly & Associates announced "Object-Oriented Programming with Visual Basic .NET," a book by J.P. Hamilton that shows developers how to use Visual Basic's (VB's) features to create and maintain scalable .NET components and applications and maximize the .NET Framework's benefits. You can learn how to use object-oriented language features such as implementation and interface inheritance, object constructors, method overloading, and method overriding. Pricing is $34.95. Contact O'Reilly at 707-827-7000 or 800-998-9938. http://www.oreilly.com 5.


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