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.NET Comes in Through the Out Door

Innovative .NET solutions are finally appearing

When Microsoft announced its grand scheme for .NET 2 years ago, the company promised an interconnected future that would benefit developers, businesses, and consumers. But as I've often noted in .NET UPDATE, Microsoft's promises haven't produced anything concrete in those 2 years. Indeed, many of the grandest high-profile .NET plans—such as the aborted .NET My Services (formerly code-named HailStorm) project—have been unmitigated disasters.

During the past few months, however, Microsoft has seen the turnaround it's needed to keep interest and momentum in .NET going. Interestingly, this turnaround has affected each of the company's core markets. Here's how.

Visual Studio .NET shipped in February 2001, giving developers the tools they need to create .NET-based applications, Web applications, and servers. Development shops have been working with Visual Studio .NET, and the results are just now beginning to hit the market. The first such applications and services, of course, will arrive from companies that still operate on Internet time or require data interoperability between disparate systems over the Web.

"We're using .NET to write the new inventory automation and management systems for our data center and a complete rewrite of an e-commerce solution we offer our customers," reports Brian Laird, senior application developer at DataPipe, a New York-area company that offers managed Web and application-hosting services. "It's a truly object- oriented environment with excellent code reuse and a full-featured class library that offers services like garbage collection and memory management. We're using C# exclusively on all of our current projects, running under the .NET Framework. Our code needs to evolve as quickly as the technology changes, and .NET lets us roll out code more quickly and then update it again in the future without requiring major rewrites."

Developer acceptance of .NET technologies will probably be further aided by news that various standards organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and ECMA are ratifying C# and the .NET Common Language Runtime (CLR) as international standards. Furthermore, .NET is already Microsoft's most interoperable set of technologies, with support for XML and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP).

Left behind after the HailStorm fiasco of 2002, Microsoft's enterprise customers will have a lot of .NET technology to chew on in the coming months. First up is the newest Office version. Office 11 will offer extensive XML support and a new XML-based front end code-named XDocs, which I discussed in the October 17 issue of .NET UPDATE. XDocs could be Office 11's killer application because it can seamlessly tie together any number of back-end data stores with a familiar-looking Office-like front-end application. Historically, ease-of-use such as XDocs will deliver has been among Microsoft's strong suits.

On the server end, many .NET Enterprise servers that will introduce compelling new features are coming down the pike. An as-yet-unnamed Real-Time Communications (RTC) server, for example, uses the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) that first debuted in Windows Messenger (part of Windows XP) to add enterprise Instant Messaging (IM) capabilities to Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server) 2003. And the new Microsoft Exchange Server version, code-named Titanium, will use .NET technologies to bridge the gulf between email and personal information manager (PIM) data stored on the server and new mobile devices such as wireless laptops, Pocket PCs, and smart phones.

From a qualitative standpoint, when it comes to .NET and Web services, consumers have been the big winners. XP ushered in the era of .NET Alerts, and the new MSN 8 Internet access service lets consumers take advantage of alerts in new ways. In addition to receiving alerts regarding news, stock quotes, travel conditions, and other information, MSN 8 customers can now send themselves alerts about pending appointments they've scheduled in MSN Calendar. You can even have alerts forwarded to your cell phone.

.NET has also enabled new peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing capabilities in applications such as Windows Messenger and MSN Messenger; anywhere, anytime email access with MSN Hotmail; and, in an interesting twist on the .NET Passport location features, a way to find rival game players online, then invite them into game tournaments. When I installed a trial copy of Microsoft Links 2002, a golf game, the installation added options to Windows Messenger to let me find and issue an invitation to other players. Nice.

I could list more examples of cool .NET technologies, but the point I'm making is that these technologies are finally being applied in the real world, and some of the applications of those technologies are pretty exciting. After a dry summer, when I often wondered whether .NET had any legs, it's nice to see Microsoft—and, increasingly, other companies—creating innovative .NET solutions.

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