What if you bet the company on a new technology that no one understands, let alone uses? That's the problem facing Microsoft 2 years after the company announced its .NET strategy, with many of the company's customers still asking, "What is .NET?" So, Microsoft brought out the executive big guns, assembled 100 mainstream reporters and financial analysts in Redmond this week, and went to work trying to explain what the company is doing with its Web services vision. The result, in effect, was a .NET report card, along with a peek at the technology's future.
"Phase 1 is essentially behind us, with things that went well and not so well," Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said. "This is a long-term approach. These things don't happen overnight." That's for sure. After 2 years, Microsoft has effectively made zero progress on .NET: The company has only two mainstream .NET products, .NET Passport and Hotmail, both of which actually predate .NET. Other technologies, such as the so-called Microsoft .NET Enterprise Servers, have little to do with .NET, regardless of the name. Gates assigned the company a "C" report-card grade for its delivery of software services thus far, although even that grade might be a bit generous. Perhaps the delivery of Visual Studio .NET earlier this year will trigger the release of more .NET-compatible products in the future.
Microsoft also sketched out an array of future products and technologies that it will build on .NET. For example, a project code-named Greenwich will provide the real-time, server-side communications muscle needed to deliver a seamless experience for desktop and Pocket PC users; Greenwich is due in mid-2003, though the company originally planned to release it as part of Win.NET Server. The oft-touted Yukon release of Microsoft SQL Server, in development for eons and now due late next year, will form the basis of the next Windows file system, a future Exchange Server data store, and the next major revision of Active Directory (AD).
The company's most compelling upcoming release, Longhorn, the next major revision of Windows, is still at least 2 years away, Gates said. This extended schedule might necessitate further interim releases of Windows, such as the new XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) release that Microsoft will field next month. But the company didn't talk a lot about Longhorn yesterday, focusing instead on the more immediate challenges it faces with .NET. Given the company's debatable accomplishments thus far, it still has a lot of work to do to excite customers about a future the company has had trouble delivering.