Windows: At the Center of the .NET Universe

In a September Windows 2000 Magazine UPDATE column, I wrote that Microsoft was jilting Win2K in favor of .NET. As I saw it, the company was spending a lot of time and money promoting and explaining a technology (.NET) that wouldn't even be available in final form for a few years, while its "bet the company" product (Win2K) languished on the sidelines. Microsoft took the time to respond to this article, and although I don't feel that the company addressed the real issue I raised— the perception that it's overlooking Win2K for .NET— it did reinforce something that I hope it takes to heart: Windows is the cornerstone of .NET, and .NET is very much a vision for the future of Windows— not a future without Windows.

This news is important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the hundreds of millions of users in the installed base, the millions of programmers who are building solutions on the Windows platforms, and the hundreds of thousands of networking and programming professionals who took the time and expended the effort to become certified in Microsoft technologies. Fortunately, with Win2K, Microsoft has created a stable, reliable, and extendable foundation upon which to base .NET.

In my last column, I discussed Microsoft's timetable for rolling out .NET and briefly outlined the key products that constitute the strategy. In the next few issues, I'll focus on the major .NET products, such as Windows.NET, Office.NET, and MSN.NET. Central among these, of course, is Windows, which is already an excellent platform for managing and deploying distributed applications. Back when Microsoft released Win2K, distributed applications fell under the "Windows DNA 2000" umbrella, a horrible marketing term for a set of technologies and services that later evolved into .NET (DNA stands for Distributed iNternet Archicecture, believe it or not). But .NET isn't simply the next version of Windows DNA. Thanks to the .NET runtime engine, .NET will become a platform upon which you can build next-generation distributed applications. But Windows doesn't go away, it supplies the server base upon which these applications are hosted, and the rich clients with which we will run these applications.

And, beginning with the next version (code-named Whistler), Win2K will evolve into Windows.NET. By all accounts, Whistler is a major client upgrade and a minor server upgrade. That is, Whistler's desktop versions (Professional and Personal Edition), due in mid-2001, will offer a fairly dramatic upgrade to existing Win2K Professional, Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me), and Windows 9x users, thanks primarily to an extensible new UI; on the server side, however, Whistler is a fairly minor upgrade— due in late 2001— that provides some bug fixes and several common user-requested changes. Whistler— which sports the version number 5.1 (Win2K is 5.0)— will apparently offer a subset of the .NET runtime, but we won't realize the benefits of a full .NET environment until the next major version of Windows (version 6.0), currently known as Blackcomb. Blackcomb, of course, is still a few years away.

Whistler, in its Beta 1 form, is clearly an interim product, although it will probably be very successful and see massive deployments in the corporate sector. The new UI— available by default on the desktop versions— is interesting, but it's not really the point. Microsoft has done the grunt work to make the Windows UI completely configurable, and I hope the company makes this feature easy for end users as well. We've been stuck with the static, Cairo-based "Windows Explorer" shell that debuted with Windows 95 for 5 long years now, but Whistler ensures that future interfaces can be applied to the OS far more easily going forward. It's a smart move, although it might take some time for applications developers to wrap their minds around the new capabilities and features.

Whistler also includes a number of simplicity changes (Microsoft calls them "improvements," but some are of debatable merit) that are part of a larger simplicity initiative that will evolve over time. Hopefully, the number of mouse clicks required to perform common tasks will decline, unlike in Win2K, which actually increased the number of steps in many scenarios. And I'd like to see a "Professional" mode in Windows that would turn off all of the simplicity stuff, which can often get in the way of an experienced user. Office 10 sports a cool "Save My Settings" Wizard that lets you easily port all of your user-definable settings from one system to another; Windows needs this feature as well.

Windows is a work in progress, but don't ever misconstrue Microsoft's intentions for this core product. The company might appear to ignore it at times, but Windows is still Microsoft's bread and butter, and .NET is very much a Windows-oriented technology. For the companies and people that have invested in Windows-based infrastructures, this isn't just a plus, it's a requirement.

For more information, see the following articles at the Windows 2000 Magazine Network:

Why Is Microsoft Jilting Win2K?
Microsoft Responds: Win2K Is the Cornerstone of .NET
Windows "Whistler" Beta 1 reviewed

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