Microsoft's .NET vision has always seemed more dream than product. Fortunately, announcements at TechEd this summer provided a glimpse of how Microsoft will bring developers, users, and the enterprise together under this distributed software platform. The most far-reaching announcement concerned Whistler Server, which Microsoft will market as Windows .NET Server when the product ships early next year.
The Windows .NET Server name has been a long time coming. An announcement at the late April Gartner "Windows 2000 and Beyond" conference revealed that Microsoft would market Whistler Server as Windows 2002. However, Microsoft Executive Vice President Jim Allchin admitted that the name Windows 2002 might not be final after all. "The fat lady hasn't sung yet," he said.
The fat lady has sung now, and .NET Server is the name of her tune. According to Microsoft, using the .NET naming convention reflects the product's inclusion of the .NET Framework. Timing difficulties will prevent Windows XP (due to ship this month) from including .NET client components, but Microsoft says that free downloads of the .NET Framework will be available for Win2K and XP. Integrating this key piece of .NET technology in .NET Server—which will retain the Version 2002 tag, as will XP—means that this server will have the capability to initiate .NET experiences right out of the box.
The .NET Framework
What is this crucial piece of software? The .NET Framework is a runtime environment similar to the one Java offers; it sits between the OS and those applications and services that are written to take advantage of .NET capabilities. Like any mid-tier technology, the .NET Framework entails trade-offs. The .NET services and applications will run a bit slower than native applications and won't be truly compiled until the first time they execute, thanks to a new just-in-time (JIT) compiler. But these services and applications can also take advantage of many features that native Win32 applications and services would need to duplicate manually (e.g., automatic memory management and versioning). A new Common Language Runtime (CLR) offers developers a rich set of services that are language-independent. This feature lets Visual Basic (VB) applications or Perl .NET-based Web sites consume Web services written in C#, and vice versa. What a change from Microsoft's Windows-only past.
Indeed, you can deploy the .NET Framework on almost any platform, including (at least theoretically) UNIX, Linux, and Mac OS. But Microsoft will focus on Windows for at least the short term and will leave porting to its partners and competitors. On the client side, Visual Studio.NET will target .NET Web services and client applications that run on XP, Win2K, Windows NT 4.0, Windows Me, and Windows 9x. So that enterprises can roll out .NET Web services, Microsoft will make available a downloadable version of the .NET Framework for Win2K Server products. The inclusion of the .NET Framework in .NET Server recasts Whistler Server as the base from which new Web services deployments will occur. The change is good news for Whistler, which previously looked like a rather lackluster upgrade, and an important show of faith for .NET Web services.
Take a Look at .NET Server
As I explained in "Stay on Target," July 2001, you needn't change your Win2K deployment plans because of .NET Server, especially given the news that Win2K Server will include the .NET Framework. But if you've been putting off the upgrade to Win2K, the time has come to consider .NET Server and a .NET future. In some ways, the platform is moving from Windows into .NET. By writing to the .NET Framework, you'll ensure that your applications and services have a future—even if that future doesn't include Windows.