Some recent news from our favorite PC monopolist has changed the outlook somewhat for .NET, although the ramifications of these changes remain unclear. The first change is Microsoft's recent decision to push back the "Blackcomb" release of Windows, which would have shipped about a year after Windows XP. The second change is last week's introduction of MSN Messenger 2.0 for the Macintosh. These developments directly affect .NET's progress and scope.
As you probably know, Microsoft developed XP under the code name "Whistler," which is also the name of a ski area in British Columbia, near Microsoft's Redmond campus. Microsoft selected the Whistler name because David Cutler, who spearheaded development of the original Windows NT (and is today working on the 64-bit versions of XP and Windows .NET Server), is an avid skier who made Whistler his recreational mountain of choice when he moved to Washington state.
Whistler's successor became known as Blackcomb, in honor of the ski area that's adjacent to Whistler. Microsoft envisioned Blackcomb as a "kitchen sink" version of Windows: It would include everything that didn't make the cut in XP, but it would also include a bevy of long-awaited features, including a SQL Server-based relational database file system. Unlike XP, Blackcomb was to be a major release (think NT 6.0) that would hit the shelves in late 2002 or early 2003.
But as is so often the case, the realities of the market have interfered with Microsoft's long-term plans. Instead of following up XP with Blackcomb, the company will release an interim version, code-named Longhorn. And yes, the Longhorn name emerged from the same heritage as Whistler and Blackcomb: It's the name of a saloon at the base of Whistler Mountain. So in some rough way, we might say that Longhorn sits between Whistler and Blackcomb.
Longhorn became necessary because the vision for Blackcomb—which would have incorporated the first full .NET User Experience (UE)—was too lofty to complete by late 2002. And with consumers expecting an OS refresh every year, the company felt that offering something in late 2002 was important. But that release will be Longhorn, not Blackcomb—Microsoft has pushed Blackcomb back to late 2003 or even 2004. The details are sketchy, but expect Longhorn to serve as yet another interim step along the way to the .NET full-meal deal, as I like to call it. The company should have nailed down subscription licensing by then, and of course the available .NET services will have improved and expanded by that point as well.
MSN Messenger Brings .NET Alerts to the Mac
Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, Microsoft has released a new version of MSN Messenger for the Macintosh, which is roughly comparable to the latest Windows release. Dubbed MSN Messenger 2.0 for the Mac, this free download runs on both Mac OS X and Mac OS 9, integrates with the .NET Passport service (just like its Windows equivalent), and gives Macintosh users access to the same instant messaging capabilities that Windows users have enjoyed for a few years.
But the most exciting part of MSN Messenger 2.0 for the Mac is that it works with MSN Alerts, the first true .NET Web service. Combined with .NET Passport integration, this feature represents a concrete decision on Microsoft's part to ensure that Mac users will be able to take advantage of the end-user products and services that result from .NET. And as we've discussed previously in .NET UPDATE, this cross-platform support is, in many ways, what differentiates the .NET initiative from anything the company has done in the past. .NET is a brave new world that doesn't always need to include Windows.