Welcome to the .NET Channel

Greetings, and welcome to the.NET Channel, your insider's guide to the Microsoft .NET initiative. As you know, Microsoft hopes that .NET will guide the computer industry from its reliance on shrink-wrapped software to a future of Web-delivered, subscription-based software services. Everything is changing, and our aim is to keep you up-to-date on these changes. If you're an administrator, a manager, or some other decision maker, this information will be a vital resource. But .NET affects all users, so the .NET Channel and .NET UPDATE will be comprehensive in its look at the technologies, advancements, and breaking news that shape this paradigm shift as it goes forward. If it's .NET-related, we'll be there.

A quick word about the format before we proceed. We'll publish the .NET UPDATE email newsletter biweekly, using the familiar UPDATE format you're accustomed to. And every other week, instead of .NET UPDATE, we'll publish more technical .NET content at the Windows 2000 Magazine .NET channel. The Web content will be particularly interesting to the developer and administrator communities because it will look more closely at the technology behind .NET. Expect write-ups about Visual Studio.NET, XML, Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and the like.

So let's get started. The future begins today.

Microsoft's road to .NET wasn't easy. In early 1995, then-CEO Bill Gates issued an internal memo describing the "Internet tidal wave" and his concerns that the upcoming release of Windows 95 wouldn't fully embrace this emerging force. But inside Microsoft, small groups were already working hard on Internet-related technologies, including a Spyglass-licensed Web browser, integrated TCP-IP functionality, and even an FTP client (which the company eventually shelved). And after Win95's release, when Microsoft announced that the "giant had awakened" on Internet Strategy Day in December 1995, the press seemed shocked that Microsoft could "turn on a dime" and so fully embrace the Internet. The truth, of course, is that the company did no such thing— only after long months of infighting and dedication did Microsoft thrash out an Internet strategy. Needless to say, that strategy was successful. Today, Microsoft is one of the most respected Internet presences on the planet.

But the company's long list of Internet work— including the oft-debated integration of Internet technology into the Windows Explorer shell—only hinted at the direction in which Microsoft was headed. Even the company, which typically plots product releases two major revisions ahead, didn't fully understand how the rise of the Internet would so fully change its plans. By late 1999 and with the release of Windows 2000, however, Microsoft executives could see the writing on the wall. The business it was in—shrink-wrapped software— was dying. And unless Microsoft wanted to become the next IBM, it would have to change the way it did business. This time, the company got it right, seeing the change before it actually happened. .NET isn't a reaction, it's a declaration of intent. It might very well be the most innovative thing the company has ever done.

The events that led to this momentous decision are now clear. The 3-year development of Win2K prompted Microsoft to reevaluate the way it plotted product development as customers became increasingly dissatisfied with the need to continually upgrade to major new releases. As the development of Win2K dragged, the market changed several times, causing the company to repeatedly retrofit the OS with features that were becoming important to users. Though Win2K is arguably the greatest software product Microsoft has released, its glacial development time proved that the era of monolithic software releases is over. In the future, Microsoft would have to respond to changes in the market with smaller and quicker releases. The best way to deliver these changes, of course, is over the Internet. So Microsoft's fledgling developments in this area— Windows Update and Auto Update— only hint at software delivery mechanisms in the works at Redmond.

And then there's Linux, an OS literally born of the Internet. You can install Linux distributions over the Internet (albeit slowly), and this open source OS currently offers Internet update capabilities that makes Windows look sick. As Linux moves inexorably to acceptance in the server and desktop markets, Microsoft must adapt its strategies to fight a product that's essentially free and technically competitive. How Microsoft can conquer such a threat remains to be seen, but the company's current plans include leveraging its installed base while focusing on interoperability, open standards, and simplicity. If that's not enough, I expect Microsoft to attack open source more directly, but we'll discuss this in the future.

In next week's Web installment, I'll present the existing and emerging technologies that make .NET possible. And the next newsletter will focus on the company's publicly stated goals for .NET, as well as the current .NET timeline. We've got a ways to go before the transformation to this future is complete, but I think you'll be surprised to discover how much of this technology is already available and coming down the pike in the near future.

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