Microsoft pouring research cash into .NET as Blackcomb strategy unfolds

Microsoft chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said this weekend that his company would spend about 80 percent of its annual $4 billion research and development budget on work related to its .NET strategy. Microsoft is in the process of switching to a Web services model, where its software will be delivered via subscription over the Internet. The first .Net products, Visual Studio.NET and Whistler, are due sometime next year. But Microsoft says that a full implementation of its .NET strategy won't be ready until 2002-2003, when a future version of Windows, code-named Blackcomb, finally ships. And Blackcomb, previously an unknown element in this strategy, is shaping up to be a major release with new features and a new user interface.

"I'd say about 80 percent of \[the R&D budget\] is behind this .NET effort," Gates said while in Australia for the Summer Olympics. "We actually started our advanced research group about eight years ago, and it's through .NET that their research will actually get into the market place. The pay-off comes when it's actually shipped in the products and the first .NET products rollout next year. The really profound ones are in the next two years."

Since first announcing its .NET strategy this summer, Microsoft has been busy educating users and developers about the upcoming changes. The company will host a .NET Enterprise event on September 26th, when it rolls out its Windows 2000-compatible server products, such as SQL Server 2000 and Exchange Server 2000. Future versions of its Office and MSN products will also offer pervasive .NET technologies. And of course, Windows will form the base of the .NET platform: Whistler, now due in late 2001, is a minor upgrade to Windows 2000 that will feature a new "skinnable" user interface and the .NET run-time. But Blackcomb, which would have been called NT 6.0 had Microsoft not dropped that naming convention last year, is a major release. Though Blackcomb is still up in the air, feature-wise, it will definitely feature major changes to the user interface. Sources close to Microsoft told me this week that the company's programmers are having "panic attacks" because of the new Aqua GUI in Mac OS X. Particularly troubling to Microsoft, I'm told, is the Mac's new intuitive Finder (their version of Explorer), which features several panes that make it easy to drill down through subdirectories. So, the GUI team at Microsoft is suddenly playing the game of "catching up with the Mac" once again, though we probably won't see the fruits of their labors until Blackcomb arrives about two years after Whistler

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