.NET UPDATE, May 1, 2003


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May 1, 2003--In this issue:

1. COMMENTARY - Microsoft: .NET is Central to Our Strategy

2. DOT-TECH PERSPECTIVES - .NET on Mobile or Low-Memory Devices

3. ANNOUNCEMENTS - Microsoft TechEd 2003, June 1-6, Dallas, TX - Windows & .NET Magazine Connections: Win a Florida Vacation

4. NEW AND IMPROVED - Create Barcodes for .NET Web Applications

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




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

* MICROSOFT: .NET IS CENTRAL TO OUR STRATEGY Neil Charney, director of .NET and platform strategy at Microsoft, and Steven VanRoekel, director of Web services marketing, met with me this week to clarify the company's dedication to .NET, the company's interoperability technology. In "Is .NET on the Way Out?" (http://www.winnetmag.com/articles/index.cfm?articleid=38851), I raised questions about the health of .NET because Microsoft seemed to be de-emphasizing the technology and stepping away from its previously high-profile strategy to move the world to software services. However, as Charney and VanRoekel explained, .NET is still central to the company's plans.

"We've had quite a challenge trying to communicate what .NET is all about," Charney told me, "and from that perspective you hit the nail on the head \[in your article\]. It's a two-pronged challenge in that we need to explain why Web services are a new paradigm for computing and how the specifics of .NET--XML, Simple Object Access Protocol, various specifications and standards--work." Further confusing matters was the notion of software as a service, which was conflated over time to include software subscriptions, although the two models aren't necessarily connected.

"From a developer perspective, software as a service makes sense, and developers today take advantage of various Windows services in their applications," Charney noted. "We've also had discussions about subscriptions, which is another matter."

Microsoft further confused the industry by using .NET as a branding and versioning moniker. As the company raced to embrace Web services, it released products that carried the .NET name in the same way that the company used the Windows name in the early days. "We had Excel for Windows, Word for Windows, and so on," Charney said, "and we used that name for versioning. But with .NET, we've decided to not use the name for versioning moving forward and instead focus on the notion of .NET as an ingredient, where exposed functionality is programmatically accessible. Where it makes sense, all of our products will move toward the Web services model and use .NET."

".NET is anything but dead," Charney declared. "It's alive and living throughout our entire platform. Combined, .NET and Windows is the best of both worlds. For our customers, we can guarantee that the platform will be significantly optimized. Developers are able to write faster applications with less code more quickly. .NET provides better reliability. And with .NET, those solutions will interoperate with solutions on other platforms."

VanRoekel told me that .NET grew out of the age of distributed computing, at a time when Microsoft was developing its COM and Distributed COM (DCOM) middleware technologies but competitors offered Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA), and other interoperability solutions. "Customers told us \[the competing middleware strategies\] forced them into vendor lock-in," he said. "So we looked at the work being done around the Internet and saw that XML was being used as a data format. So we developed Simple Object Access Protocol as an XML messaging infrastructure." Over time, Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) has matured with various interoperability standards, including the recently released WS-ReliableMessaging specification, which lets systems route messages reliably among distributed applications.

The conceptual difference between the current iteration of .NET and the original .NET announcement almost 3 years ago is that Microsoft now perceives .NET as a plumbing technology that will be pervasive across the company's products, but in a quiet, behind-the-scenes fashion. "Every time you reenter numbers in a new cell phone, you're doing something software should do for you," Charney said. VanRoekel added, "Every time systems don't connect, you end up doing more work." Web services generally, and .NET specifically, are the glue that will make disparate systems work together seamlessly, they said.

Charney noted that in the DOS days you couldn't transfer data from one application to another. You would open Lotus 1-2-3, print part of a spreadsheet, close the application, open Corel's WordPerfect, type a report--leaving space for the spreadsheet, of course--print that out, then physically cut and paste the two documents into one final document. When Windows came along, Microsoft added the concept of the clipboard--"temporary storage in the sky," as Charney called it--and other shareable technologies such as printer drivers that made life easier for developers and end users alike.

Data interoperability suddenly was as simple as cut and paste, and application writers didn't have to worry about specifically adding support for different data formats. Today, of course, we take these capabilities for granted. But the pre-Windows model of interoperability is very similar to the Web of the late 1990s, in which sites were standalone islands of information, and you couldn't interact with the Web site data.

"Now, as the paradigm is broader, and we're using different computers, different servers and devices, we don't know what machine services are running on," Charney said. "But we don't want to know, or need to know. It's the same functionality as cutting data from your business application and pasting it into mine. From a business perspective, this is a very valuable capability."

VanRoekel agreed. "Essentially, we're lowering the complexity across the board, and taking it down to a smaller, essential level, not a broad, technological level," he said.

So the .NET initiative, apparently, has some legs. And that's good news for the IT administrators, decision makers, and developers who have thrown time, effort, and money behind this technology. .NET is a revolution of software services, and revolutions are often messy, confusing affairs. In the end, we might one day take these services for granted, in the same way that we take the Windows clipboard for granted today. That day will probably go unheralded and the problems of the past will be forgotten, just as I had forgotten the problems of the DOS days.



(contributed by Christa Anderson, [email protected])

* .NET ON MOBILE OR LOW-MEMORY DEVICES In .NET UPDATE, I've discussed the Windows .NET Framework mainly as it applies to full-scale versions of Windows--desktops and servers. But for devices such as PDAs or Windows terminals, you need a smaller OS. Windows CE has been a common OS for many mobile and low-memory devices for several years. Now we have Windows CE .NET (formerly code-named Talisker), which uses the .NET Compact Framework.

The Framework generally supports three kinds of applications: Windows forms (WinForms), Web Forms that display in a browser, and Web services. The Compact Framework works, as you would expect, as a client. The Compact Framework supports a subset of WinForms and can run Web service clients but can't act as a server--it can supply no Web Forms and no Web service server components. The clients can use HTML to run Web Forms within a browser, but Windows CE .NET clients can also use compact HTML (cHTML), a pared-down version of HTML for use in low-memory, low-power, minimal-storage-capacity devices that don't support .jpg files, image maps, frames, style sheets, or other demanding HTML features and display only in monochrome. Windows CE .NET clients can also use other portable-device markup languages if you install the Microsoft Mobile Internet Toolkit on the server supporting the clients' Web applications.

Windows CE .NET-based applications can be headless (e.g., appliances such as game stations are headless) or display-based, (e.g., devices such as Windows terminals, PDAs, cell phones). Most Windows CE .NET applications are display-based because one reason for using Windows CE .NET is to make creating a good UI easier (and to separate the creation of the UI from that of the underlying logic). You don't get much from a pretty UI if the appliance has no graphical interface.

Does Windows CE .NET make Windows XP Embedded obsolete? Absolutely not, just as previous editions of Windows CE didn't make the embedded versions of the desktop du jour obsolete. Windows CE .NET can't support the full Framework and it doesn't support all features of Windows forms in the Framework. You can't use Windows CE .NET to make a server-in-a-box appliance that can host Web service server components--Windows CE .NET can be only a client. For the same reason, you couldn't use a Windows CE-based device to host applications that depend on Web Forms. This lack of support for Web Forms could make some methods of remote configuration inaccessible. You'll still need XP Embedded to build devices that need server capabilities, whether those devices are appliances or the type of Windows terminals that are essentially PCs in a sealed case.

Windows CE .NET lets low-power and low-memory clients use .NET without needing to rely on a remote display protocol such as RDP, with the .NET applications running on a terminal server. Because one of the reasons to use the Framework is increased application mobility without depending on a network connection, Windows CE .NET's functionality is important.



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(contributed by Carolyn Mader, [email protected])

* CREATE BARCODES FOR .NET WEB APPLICATIONS IDAutomation.com released ASP .NET Barcode Server Controls, software that adds barcoding capability to .NET Web applications. The server-side component lets you include online barcodes in applications for online tickets, coupons, name badges, invoices, registrations, rebate mailers, check-in confirmations, packing slips, and gift certificates. The software supports server barcode types and features adjustable orientation, automatic sizing, automatic temp file maintenance, and quality image creation. Pricing is $199 for a single server license. Developer licenses start at $395. Contact IDAutomation.com at 813-261-5064. http://www.idautomation.com



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