Microsoft's strategy for promoting XML-based Web services through its .NET initiative was once again called into question when the company abruptly announced last month that it would rename its next server OS, Windows .NET Server 2003, calling it Windows Server 2003 instead. Dropping .NET from the name is momentous for many reasons. Microsoft has led the industry to believe that all its enterprise products would carry the .NET moniker. But the company now says that it has revisited how to best promote the .NET technologies. Windows Server was the first product to get a name change based on the new philosophy, although it certainly won't be the last.
In meetings at the Redmond campus 2 weeks ago, I discussed the name change and overall .NET branding strategy with various Microsoft representatives. "After we came up with .NET, everyone at Microsoft thought the next release should be called something .NET," said Adam Sohn, who works in the .NET Platform Strategy Group. "But that was the marketing side. The tech guys asked what it meant to have .NET in the name. Those guys had the message: They knew they had to move to managed code and expose XML Web services. Across the company, this technology is now in place, and you'll see it spread across all of the appropriate products."
But that doesn't change the fundamental problem with promoting the .NET name, Sohn said. What the heck is it, and how can Microsoft promote it to customers? "We had to get the message consistent," he said, "and consistency is part of what it takes to be an enterprise company. We're still relatively new to the enterprise space, and it's a long road. We must learn the trust. So one thing we're focused on is predictability."
To that end, Microsoft evaluated how customers understood its current message about .NET, and thought about how the company could make the message clearer going forward. The company also wanted a method that would allow its partners to affiliate their products with .NET technologies. The Windows OS compatibility logos have done well: Microsoft partners seek to get the logo for their products to show that they're taking advantage of the latest Windows advances. Microsoft decided to take a similar approach with .NET, creating the .NET Connected Logo Program.
"First, of course, we had to be consistent internally," Sohn told me. So the decision was made at "the highest levels of the company" to drop the .NET moniker from most of Microsoft's products. Visual Studio .NET 2003 is a high-profile exception to the name change, Sohn said, because Visual Studio .NET is used to create .NET applications and services, and no customer confusion existed about Visual Studio .NET. "We can’t put .NET on everything," he said. "So we put a stake in the ground and made it consistent. The technology didn't change; just the branding changed. And it will change in other places. For Windows Server 2003 and other .NET-compliant products, we're going to put a .NET Connected Logo on the box. Best of all, third parties can get \[the logo\], too."
The main requirement for the new .NET Connected Logo is simple: The product must produce consumer-exposed Web services. By consumer, Microsoft isn't referring to home users, however. Here, consumer refers to a service or application that can interact with, or consume, services exposed as XML. For more information about this new logo program, visit the URL below.
In addition to the new branding challenges, Sohn also briefly addressed .NET My Services (formerly code-named HailStorm), the company's failed strategy to supply basic and subscription services to consumers and businesses. Because of a lack of support from its enterprise partners, .NET My Services was recast as a standard server product, which will ship later this year. "Our partners asked us to simply build the infrastructure, and certainly this is something we understand," Sohn noted. "The per-month fee system is still untested. We believe in the dream, but we're still unsure how the business model will work out. So this year, we will have updated news on that. The functionality will show up as a standalone .NET My Services server, or perhaps as an add-on to existing servers--we're still not sure. But the work continues, and the scenarios are interesting. We'll bring them to market in a way that's compelling to the enterprise. And of course, MSN can deliver them to consumers."
.NET Connected Logo Program http://www.microsoft.com/net/logo/