.NET UPDATE, March 6, 2003


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March 6, 2003--In this issue:

1. COMMENTARY - The Empire Strikes Back: Microsoft Countersues Sun

2. DOT-TECH PERSPECTIVES - Basics of the .NET Framework: Windows Forms

3. ANNOUNCEMENTS - Join The HP & Microsoft Network Storage Solutions Road Show! - Microsoft Mobility Developer Conference

4. NEW AND IMPROVED - Manage Applications as XML.NET-Powered Services - Developers: Create Help Systems for the .NET Framework

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




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

* THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: MICROSOFT COUNTERSUES SUN If you had any doubt that the Sun and Microsoft legal battle over Java and .NET was going to get uglier, then consider the latest developments in the case, which has been generating headlines since a federal judge ordered Microsoft to bundle Sun's Java technology in Windows. Last week, Microsoft countersued Sun, alleging that the company broke a contract with the software giant that granted Microsoft the ability to distribute its own Java version.

Microsoft contends that the contract, issued in the days after the companies settled their previous Java lawsuit in January 2001, included an agreement that let Microsoft distribute its Java Virtual Machine (JVM) through 2008. Microsoft isn't specifying damages in the suit but instead asks Judge J. Frederick Motz to determine an appropriate amount at trial. In Sun's current suit against Microsoft, the company alleges (among other things) that Microsoft has no right to distribute any Java versions other than Sun's.

The language in Microsoft's 51-page brief says much about the animosity between the two companies. "For nearly a decade, Sun has instigated lawsuits against and governmental investigations of Microsoft based on alleged violations of antitrust and copyright laws in an effort to impede Microsoft's competition with Sun in the marketplace," the counterclaim reads. "Sun has no product strategy to counter Microsoft's investment in creating innovative and useful software, and therefore attempts to obstruct Microsoft through litigation."

Microsoft's legal case is interesting. By forcing Sun to formally respond to the Microsoft JVM issue, the software giant is putting Sun in two contradictory legal positions. According to its pending lawsuit, Sun says Microsoft must be forced to bundle Java technology in Windows because Microsoft previously harmed the technology. But in responding to the current countersuit, Sun must argue that Microsoft cannot bundle its Java technology in Windows. Though the disparate opinions are explainable--Sun will argue that Microsoft's Java version is incompatible with Sun's version and thus pollutes the Java market--Sun still seems to be in a precarious legal position.

Microsoft's case against Sun also goes beyond simple legal semantics. In addition to the previously mentioned charge, Microsoft also says that Sun has purposefully filed its antitrust case against Microsoft "willfully and deliberately with an intent to cause competitive injury to Microsoft and to aid Microsoft's competitors." In other words, Microsoft says that Sun is "seeking to relitigate the United States government's action against Microsoft."

The whole Java mess is, of course, reminiscent of Microsoft's browser wars with Netscape. I've recently revisited the browser wars through various books about Netscape and an interesting PBS documentary called "Code Rush." One message that's come through loud and clear, with the benefit of hindsight, is that Netscape never really had a chance. Not only was its technology rushed to market, poorly written, and overly aggressive in its practice of side-stepping existing standards, but the company lacked the talent and infrastructure to deal with the threat from Redmond.

This analysis doesn't change the fact that Microsoft acted illegally to defeat Netscape. But there is little doubt now that the result would have been the same: Netscape was destined to surrender the browser market to Microsoft. Looking at Sun and Java, I'm beginning to have lingering doubts about whether this legal posturing will change the underlying technical challenges Sun faces in getting Java established as a Web services standard. Compared with .NET, Java is woefully inadequate in many areas, despite its years-long head start. And it's hard to imagine the outcome of this battle being demonstrably different from what happened to Netscape half a decade ago.


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(contributed by Christa Anderson, [email protected])

* BASICS OF THE .NET FRAMEWORK: WINDOWS FORMS In "Basics of the .NET Framework: ADO.NET" (http://www.winnetmag.com/Articles/Index.cfm?ArticleID=38254), I discussed how the .NET Framework makes database information available to its applications. But what does the UI for .NET applications look like? The UI is as important to the .NET Framework as is access to databases and operates at roughly the same place in the architecture. This time, we'll look at Windows forms, also known as Web forms, which are a fairly language-agnostic way of providing a front end to the Web services and ADO.NET used in .NET applications. They're Microsoft's answer to a common applications dilemma: namely, how to make applications easy to maintain and use. Of the three current models for applications, all fall short in one way or another.

Applications running on user workstations are available whether the person using them has a network connection or not, and they benefit from having an entire computer's resources dedicated to them. But installing and maintaining those applications requires administrators to touch user workstations, either manually or programmatically, through instruments such as group policies. Also, locally installed applications can hurt a workstation if they're poorly written because they can overwrite files that other locally installed applications need.

Applications running on a terminal server are easier to install and update because updating one server takes care of all the clients using it. However, not all applications are terminal server-friendly, and you can't use those that are without a network connection. (The need for a live network connection was one of the stumbling blocks for the application service provision model--few people wanted to pay to use applications they couldn't get to if their broadband connection was down.) Browser-based applications don't affect the client workstation and, like applications running on a terminal server, are accessible from any computer running a browser, not just from the computer on which they're installed. However, they also depend on a network connection and might not be as powerful as regular Win32 applications.

Web-based applications have a downside, too. Web-based applications are also usually kept separate from locally installed resources such as disk drives (mostly because it's hard to limit the applications' access after the application has the access) and workstation-based applications.

Windows forms are supposed to simplify .NET application development and management while making the applications as useful as possible. First, Visual Studio .NET, the development tool for Windows forms, works with any language supported in the Common Language Runtime (CLR), so you're not limited to using Visual Basic. Windows forms use controls (such as buttons) for the UI, and events (such as clicking a button) to initiate action. They support existing controls but also add some controls, such as Link Label (which adds a hyperlink to an application), Tray Icon (which puts an application in the system tray), and Print Preview (which shows print job output before printing). You can create a standard form and then make that form inheritable for all other applications to easily give all applications in a suite a similar look and feel.

Second, applications using Windows forms are simple to deploy. Rather than sending users a package to install, or setting up group policies, you can make applications self-deploying by providing a link to a URL that contains the application's executable. Connecting to this link downloads the executable, which then sets up the application from the network and then uninstalls it when the user is done with the application. Alternatively, according to this model you can copy the application to the user desktop and let it run locally.

Few applications use Windows forms now. However, the idea is to create language-agnostic applications that can run either from a central server or from the local computer, depending on what works best in a given situation.



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(contributed by Carolyn Mader, [email protected])

* MANAGE APPLICATIONS AS XML.NET-POWERED SERVICES Softricity launched the .NET version of SoftGrid, an application deployment and management platform that lets enterprise users manage existing Windows-based applications as XML.NET-powered services over corporate networks. SoftGrid integrates .NET-connected technologies to enable application discovery and provisioning features for applications outside the firewall. SoftGrid transforms existing Windows applications into network services without changing the source code. For pricing, contact Softricity at 617-695-0336, extension 100, or 877-763-8737. http://www.softricity.com

* DEVELOPERS: CREATE HELP SYSTEMS FOR THE .NET FRAMEWORK eHelp announced RoboHelp Office Pro for .NET, a help authoring tool that provides .NET Framework support, including Windows forms, ASP.NET Web forms, and XML Web Services. Developers can create Help systems for .NET Framework-based applications. Pricing for RoboHelp Office Pro for .NET starts at $1999. Contact eHelp at 858-459-6365 or 800-358-9370. http://www.ehelp.com



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