Microsoft CEO and president Steve Ballmer this week told attendees at the European IT Forum 2000 in Monaco that the full .NET user experience is still 2-3 years away, making it likely that it will be delivered in a future version of Windows currently known only by the codename Blackcomb. Ballmer, who addressed the crowd via a satellite link from Redmond, said that Microsoft was working as quickly as it could to deliver a version of Windows that fully supports its new .NET technologies, but that this would have to be phased in over the next two versions. The next version of Windows, code-named Whistler, will feature a subset of the .NET technologies, while Blackcomb, due in the 2002-2003 timeframe, according to Ballmer, will be the first full .NET release, including the new user interface, which the company refers to as the .NET user experience.
".NET is the future for Microsoft," he said. "Windows doesn't go away, the PC doesn't go away. But we needed a platform to reflect the reality of the Internet. \[.NET\] is a big change for us, and it is a lot of work, a lot of effort." Microsoft's .NET strategy will see the company transition from a supplier of shrink-wrapped software sold in stores to one that sells Web-based services over the Internet. To complete this transition, Windows will need to be rearchitected to support this model, which requires a .NET run-time engine as well as pervasive OS hooks into various .NET technologies. Microsoft is using XML as the basis for its .NET work, which will slowly be incorporated into all of its application and server products as well.
In the meantime, the company is working in a number of areas to get to the .NET future. It's MSN Explorer project hints at the future .NET user experience, which will be very HTML-like. The Visual Studio developer environment is being upgraded into a .NET-compatible version so that developers can get going creating the .NET Web services that will eventually replace today's desktop-oriented software. And core products such as the next versions of Windows and Office are being upgraded with .NET functionality. Until these products actually ship, Microsoft will work on communicating with end users and developers, in an effort to prepare them for the coming change. Ballmer has admitted recently that he's not exactly sure how the company will make money with the new model, but customer resistance, especially from the corporate sector, will probably ensure that we'll be buying a shrink-wrapped version of Windows in retail stores for years to come, even as the company moves away from that sales model