Citing a slew of upcoming software releases, Microsoft announced this week that 2002 will usher in "the next chapter of .NET," with products such as Windows .NET Server, the Tablet PC, and Visual Studio .NET bringing Web services to a wide range of users for the first time. Microsoft noted that 2002 arrives "on the heels of an historic year" for the company that saw the release of Windows XP, Office XP, and the company's first gaming console, the Xbox. Here's what we can expect from Microsoft in the coming year:
Visual Studio .NET
In February, Microsoft will finally release Visual Studio .NET, its comprehensive and extensible software-development suite. In addition to the product's traditional programming capabilities, Visual Studio .NET will introduce many developers to XML-based Web services for the first time, and the company expects this release to be the catalyst for a new generation of services-based software.
Windows .NET Server
The successor to Windows 2000 Server, Windows .NET Server will arrive by mid-year and will provide the foundation for the XML-based Web services Microsoft has been promoting. The Windows .NET Server family has expanded compared with its predecessors to include Web Server, Standard Server, Enterprise Server, and Datacenter Server editions. The product also includes new communications and collaboration features.
Great Plains Dynamics and eEnterprise Release 7.0
The first .NET-enabled version of Great Plains Dynamics and eEnterprise, Release 7.0, are also due in mid-2002. The products will include features for multinational businesses and will incorporate Microsoft bCentral online services. "Our economy is increasingly connected, and it's our vision to help businesses prosper in this environment," said Tami Reller, vice president of global solutions at Microsoft Great Plains. "These upcoming releases are tied to this vision. Along with making it easier to conduct business across borders, they blend Internet and desktop solutions to \[let\] businesses complete everyday tasks faster and more efficiently."
Sometime in late 2002, we can expect to see the first Tablet PC devices, which will run a modified version of Windows XP that includes handwriting and digital-ink capabilities. Tablet PCs will weigh just 2.5 to 4 pounds and will offer better battery life than most notebook computers. "The Tablet PC represents a giant step in the evolution of the laptop," said Kelly Berschauer, a Tablet PC product manager at Microsoft. "It's a full-function PC that can be used in more aspects of your day. You can choose how you enter information or interact with applications: handwriting quick notes at meetings or typing longer documents or spoken words when your hands are full."
Speech Technologies for .NET
In addition to the handwriting input in Tablet PCs, Microsoft is also working on other forms of alternative PC input, and the company will update its speech technologies sometime in 2002 to work with Web and telephone applications. Expect a beta of the Microsoft Speech Technologies for .NET in the first half of 2002 and a beta of the server version in the second half of 2002.
Microsoft TV Advanced Platform
Despite a slow ramp-up, Microsoft says that 2002 will be the year that its connected television services take off, starting with a pilot program in St. Louis, Missouri, that will let customers use their TVs to shop online, browse the Web, use email and instant messaging, and stream audio and video. Charter Communications will be the first major US cable operator to offer Microsoft TV Advanced software in its set-top boxes, and Microsoft expects to roll out the software to more than 1 million users in 2002.
The Xbox set sales records in North America when Microsoft released it in November, and the company says it's on track for 2002 debuts in Japan and Europe. The Xbox version sold in those markets will be identical to the version sold in the United States, making it easier for developers to create applications that run in all markets.
Corona Digital Media Technologies
Microsoft introduced its next-generation digital-media technologies, code-named Corona, at Streaming Media East trade show earlier this month. Throughout 2002 Microsoft will beta test and then release the products. The technologies include audio- and video-streaming server software that Microsoft will include in Windows .NET Server, a new version of Windows Media Player (WMP) for all modern Windows versions, new audio and video codecs, a new Windows Media Encoder, and a new Windows Media software development kit (SDK). Betas of all these products will be available by early 2002.