Recipe for Adoption
By Jonathan Goodyear
An amazing thing happened when Microsoft made the .NET Framework available for beta testing. Since that day over a year and a half ago, more than two million people have downloaded the .NET Framework, which makes it the most widely distributed beta software since Netscape. Not even the venerable Java platform expanded its reach so rapidly. This January, Microsoft officially released the first version of the .NET Framework, including ASP.NET. In February, Visual Studio .NET was released as well. Some of us who had been using it for a while already became hooked on it. We wanted to make the switch to nothing but .NET after 15 minutes. How I wish it were that simple.
Amid the excitement, I almost forgot that we re at the beginning of a new product s life cycle again. Regardless of the pre-release hype, adoption of ASP.NET will not be an overnight process. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. It takes many pieces, carefully placed together, for a technology to succeed. Many of them take time and simply cannot be rushed.
Consider the architecture end of the spectrum. Even though ASP.NET borrows its name from ASP classic, the two technologies are radically different. Thus, the architectural design of the Web sites constructed with ASP.NET likely will not resemble the design of ASP classic Web sites. Whenever someone releases a new technology, developers begin the discovery process of learning what they can do with the technology. It takes months (if not years) before developers come to a consensus as to what they should do with the technology. Remember when Session variables and mixing ASP and HTML code blocks were considered best practices? It took a long time before Web-farm scalability limitations and the process contention of context switching caused these two techniques to be banished to the annals of ASP history. ASP.NET is compiled and performs much faster than ASP classic did, but dozens of architecture questions have yet to be answered. For instance, when should user controls be used? How about Web Services? Is sub-classing Page objects to create templates a good idea? Which caching scheme works the best? Are the ASP.NET security features practical? The list goes on and on. Rest assured that asp.netPRO magazine will be there to help you to answer these questions.
Another piece of the ASP.NET-adoption puzzle is the third-party component market. One factor that makes a technology appealing is the level of support it receives from third-party component vendors. After all, third-party components allow projects to be built in less time, thus shortening the time it takes to get a project to market. ASP classic had rich third-party component support because it was rooted in the COM world. ASP.NET is based on an entirely new platform in the .NET Framework. Several component vendors, such as Desaware and Component One, have committed to porting their products to the .NET Framework, but almost all of them are still in beta testing. As more and more component vendors release .NET versions of their products, the IT industry will embrace ASP.NET more and more. One factor that could mitigate the need for extensive third-party component support is the vast array of new out-of-the-box functionality that comes with the .NET Framework. For instance, you no longer need a third-party component to upload files to a Web server or to create dynamic Web charts and other graphics. Component vendors will need to re-think their product lines and become more innovative to stay competitive.
Conservative corporate culture may stifle ASP.NET opportunities in the short run. Some companies like to be at the forefront of new technologies, but most prefer to take a wait-and-see stance. Usually, an observation period of six months to one year (including the release of at least one service pack) is necessary to get a company to adopt a new technology (especially from Microsoft, which has had its share of stability and security troubles). As companies get larger and larger, leaps of faith become the exception more than the rule. Luckily, Microsoft is engaging in a full-court press to encourage a faster adoption cycle for many of its key customers. This should speed up the adoption process for the rest of the industry.
ASP classic existed for a long time before its popularity exploded. The primary vehicle that enabled this rapid growth was when Web-hosting providers began making ASP hosting affordable to the masses. At one point, ASP support was an expensive option offered by only a few hosting providers. These days, you can host an ASP Web site at a well-respected hosting provider for less than $20 per month. Obviously, larger Web sites are operated by companies with their own hardware and networking infrastructures. But the popularity of the ASP Web-development platform among smaller Web sites led to the creation of a pool of talent larger companies could leverage. If hosting providers make ASP.NET hosting affordable, then ASP.NET will make great strides toward industry-wide use and acceptance.
Along those same lines, in order for a new technology to succeed, developers need to know how to use it. That is where books, magazines, Web sites, and conferences come into play. This is one area in which ASP.NET already has hit critical mass. Dozens of quality books were in print while ASP.NET was still in beta. Several magazines (including this one) have been launched to cover the .NET Framework and ASP.NET. Likewise, industry stalwarts in the ASP tutorial business, such as ASPFree (http://www.aspfree.com) and 4GuysFromRolla (http://www.4guysfromrolla.com), as well as many new Web sites, have published hundreds of articles on how to accomplish various tasks using ASP.NET. The major conference circuits have added ASP.NET tracks to their agendas, sensing that a lot of developers are interested in the subject. All of these information sources add up to a great deal of developer awareness of ASP.NET s features and capabilities and will make its adoption easier.
Microsoft has done a stellar job of creating a strong nucleus of support in the development community around the .NET Framework. This is especially true for ASP.NET, which is the centerpiece of Microsoft s software-as-a-service initiative. Only time will tell how quickly the rest of the pieces of the technology-adoption puzzle come together. I have seen strong growth in all areas necessary for ASP.NET to succeed. Perhaps the ingredient we most need to add to the recipe for ASP.NET adoption is patience. Keep your eyes open, though, and stay prepared. ASP.NET is coming soon to a project near you.
Jonathan Goodyear is the president of ASPSoft, http://www.aspsoft.com, an Internet consulting firm based in Orlando, FL. He s a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer and is the author of Debugging ASP.NET (New Riders Publishing). Jonathan also is a contributing editor for Visual Studio Magazine. Reach him by e-mail at mailto:[email protected] or through his online magazine, angryCoder, at http://www.angrycoder.com.
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