.NET UPDATE, February 20, 2003


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February 20, 2003--In this issue:

1. COMMENTARY - .NET Heads to a New Market

2. DOT-TECH PERSPECTIVES - Basics of the .NET Framework: ADO.NET

3. ANNOUNCEMENTS - Join the HP and Microsoft Network Storage Solutions Road Show! - Visual Studio Connections: 3 for 1 Conference Offer

4. NEW AND IMPROVED - Learn How to Upgrade to Visual Studio .NET 2003 - Developers: Track Software Defects and Feature Requests

5. CONTACT US - See this section for a list of ways to contact us.




(contributed by Paul Thurrott, news editor, [email protected])

* .NET HEADS TO A NEW MARKET Microsoft has targeted its .NET technology at businesses since the company announced the initiative almost 3 years ago, but businesses have been slow to adopt .NET, as they are with any new technology. But as Microsoft's plans for a .NET My Services infrastructure have crumbled, leaving the company to develop a standalone server product that will be more amenable to enterprise needs, Microsoft has turned to consumers to roll .NET out to a large group of users. For example, in October 2002, Microsoft launched MSN 8, which has consumer-oriented .NET My Services-like features.

However, no group of consumers beats teenagers for enthusiastically adopting technology. Today's teens were raised on technology, and in the same way that people of my generation were the first to grow up with video games, today's teens are the first of what I call the Windows Generation--they aren't conscious of a time when Microsoft didn't dominate the desktop computing landscape. Microsoft refers to this group as the Net Generation, or NetGen, because the Internet has played such a pervasive role in their lives.

Microsoft looked at the NetGen market, which the company defines as 13- to 24-year-olds, and determined that this crowd wanted a more seamless way to interact with their friends online. The idea is that Internet-savvy kids are on Instant Messaging (IM) first thing in the morning, and they want to spend the day chatting, sharing music, and otherwise wasting time. Despite my qualms about Microsoft's ability to discern what the youth of the world are all about, the company's assessment of this group makes sense to me. And if Microsoft wants to be relevant to the kids who will one day be technology decision makers, the company should start targeting this crowd immediately.

The result of Microsoft's brainstorming for this market is a free .NET Messenger-based product called 3 Degrees that will ship in beta form the week of February 24. 3 Degrees is an application that sits on your Windows XP desktop and gives you seamless access to one or more groups of friends. Everything is completely customizable--you can choose from a collection of stock group images, for example, or make your own. The software even offers ways to make subtle, pseudo-social gestures to your pals, such as virtual winks. And when you share music, all of your friends in the group you specify can contribute to the playlist. It's a peer-to-peer sharing application with soul but is designed with copyright holders' interests in mind as well: If a particular friend isn't online, her portion of the shared playlist won't be available to others until she returns.

3 Degrees lets you configure groups of as many as 10 friends, and you can interact with several groups at a time. Images on your desktop represent your groups, and you can right-click an image to open various options, such as sending groupwide chat messages, winks, digital photos, or music. The 3 Degrees product assumes you have a broadband connection and that you're online a lot. The application is easy to use. If you want to share a digital photo with a group, for example, you simply drag it onto the group's desktop image, and 3 Degrees will automatically transmit the photo to everyone in the group.

Some writers are reporting that 3 Degrees is a "surprising departure" for Microsoft, but I don't see the product as a detour for the company. In recent years, Microsoft has made credible moves into the consumer market with Windows XP Home Edition and its pervasive home-networking and digital-media experiences and the near-photo-realistic Xbox video game system and various PC-based games. In my mind, 3 Degrees is a logical move for the company, although apparently several upper-level and, frankly, aging Microsoft executives such as Bill Gates and Jim Allchin had to be convinced of that. They're on board now.

Controversially, 3 Degrees will be free--"There's no business plan," boasts one Microsoft executive--an approach that carries shades of Internet Explorer and the company's ongoing antitrust woes. The goal, of course, is to get people to stop using IM and start using a more full-featured product, and 3 Degrees might just fit the bill.


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(contributed by Christa Anderson, [email protected])

* BASICS OF THE .NET FRAMEWORK: ADO.NET You use applications not only to create information but also to recall information you've stored. The part of the .NET Framework that interfaces with databases is called ADO.NET.

Let's review how applications that follow the Microsoft model get data into and out of databases. Microsoft's first multidatabase platform for accessing data was Open Database Connectivity (ODBC), an API that developers writing in C use to interact with relational databases. Microsoft's next step was to extend this access model beyond C-language applications and to provide access to tabled databases through the Common Object Model (COM). Then Microsoft developed a more language-agnostic way of interacting with databases: OLE DB. ODBC didn't go away--OLE DB just provided a means of accessing it from languages other than C.

The catch to OLE DB is that its COM objects aren't available to scripting languages such as VBScript. To let scripts access databases, Microsoft added yet another layer: ActiveX Data Objects (ADO). ADO doesn't replace OLE DB; rather, ADO gives applications that can't use OLE DB a way to interact with databases.

ADO.NET is the .NET version of ADO. ADO.NET adds an extra layer to the data-access cake with the addition of SQL Server and OLE DB managed providers. The data-access path for SQL Server applications goes straight from the managed provider to the database. The data-access path for applications that use OLE DB access goes from OLE DB to ODBC before accessing the database.

The differences between ADO and ADO.NET aren't limited to the path that data takes from the database to the application and back again, however. Here's an overview of how ADO.NET reads and writes data store data.

First, ADO.NET doesn't depend on continuous connections to its databases. Traditionally, client/server application components open a connection to a database and keep it open while the application is open. This approach keeps the data available but strains the database server by requiring it to maintain open connections. If all applications keep open connections, then the number of connections that a database can support limits the number of applications--and instances of applications--that can connect to it. In addition, not all applications are able to maintain live connections to their data stores. Web applications in particular can't rely on a live connection. For these reasons, ADO.NET connects applications to their data stores only long enough to read or write the appropriate data. This connection architecture better supports Web-based applications and makes database-dependent applications scale better.

Second, because ADO.NET uses managed providers, it interacts with its data stores differently than other data-access models do. Applications usually execute SQL statements or stored procedures to read or interact with a database. ADO.NET packages these statements and stored procedures within data commands. For example, if you want to read a set of rows from the database, you create a data command and configure it with the text of a SQL Select statement or the name of a stored procedure that fetches records. The data commands open the connection, execute the SQL statement or stored procedure, and close the connection. If you need to perform more than one operation, you use multiple data commands.

Third, applications that use ADO.NET can cache data in datasets. The idea behind this approach is that applications frequently need not just one record but a set of records. Rather than going back to the database repeatedly for records, one option is to cache the records retrieved from the database and work from this cache. An object in an application can even send its dataset to another part of the application that needs the same data but would have had to query the database itself. To update a database by updating the dataset, an application uses data adapters. A data adapter typically contains four commands, one each to select, insert, update, and delete rows in the database. Datasets aren't specific to a particular database. A dataset can contain information from multiple databases, or one database and one spreadsheet. After data is in the dataset, the data's origin doesn't matter--the application can work with it all in the same way.

Finally, data stored in a dataset is transferred as XML. The ADO.NET data APIs automatically create XML files or streams from information in the dataset and send them to another component, then translate them back as they enter their new dataset. Data isn't stored in the dataset as XML, it's only transferred in XML format to ensure interoperability among applications. In addition, XML is text-based, so it can pass through firewalls that block binary files.



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(contributed by Carolyn Mader, [email protected])

* LEARN HOW TO UPGRADE TO VISUAL STUDIO .NET 2003 Addison-Wesley released four books for developers who want to upgrade to Visual Studio .NET 2003: "Essential ASP.NET with Examples in C#," "Essential ASP.NET with Examples in Visual Basic .NET," ".NET Web Services: Architecture and Implementation," and "Database Access with Visual Basic .NET, Third Edition." Pricing for each book ranges from $40.49 to $44.99. Contact Addison-Wesley at 617-848-6000. http://www.awprofessional.com

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