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The component parts of .NET

And why some of them look strangely familiar...

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In the long term, all applications software may well be provided as a service, subscribed to over the Internet. This will allow Microsoft and other software service providers to provide better customer service, transparent installation and backup, and a positive feedback loop into the product-development process. Software delivered as a service might also allow Microsoft and independent developers to respond more swiftly with backups and anti-virus protection.

Microsoft will offer a range of .NET products and experiences, including the following:

Windows.NET The next generation of the Windows desktop platform, Windows.NET is touted to support productivity, creativity, management, entertainment and much more, and according to Microsoft is designed to put users in control of their digital lives. Tightly integrated with a core set of .NET building block services, it provides integrated support for digital media and collaboration, and can be personalized. It can also be programmed by .NET services, including MSN.NET, bCentral for .NET, and Office.NET. Windows.NET is intended to provide a rich platform for developers wanting to write .NET applications and services. Microsoft will also continue to offer and support versions of the Windows platform without .NET services. Note however that Windows.NET is something of a movable feast; Whistler, which is currently fairly clearly defined, includes some .NET functionality, but Blackcomb, which is not, is more likely to contain the whole gamut. That means Windows.NET, which is not an operating system as such, will likely roll out as a series of components and add-ons for Windows over a period of years.

MSN.NET By combining the content and services of MSN with the new .NET platform, MSN.NET is intended to offer consumers a single digital personality, with access to 'smart' services "any time, any place and on any device." You can see how the ability to act as gatekeeper for a wide range of online services, and as custodian of the way they're accessed and the platform used to access them furthers the old 'world domination' plans. But simplicity of use of Internet services and the removal of hassle is what consumers want, and what all companies, not just Microsoft, are striving for, so it would be a mistake to just dismiss it as a plot.

Personal Subscription Services In addition to MSN.NET, Microsoft will build a set of higher-priced premium consumer-oriented services on the .NET platform that will build on existing Microsoft entertainment, gaming, education and productivity products. These services will give people the power of traditional desktop applications combined with the flexibility, integration and roaming support of the .NET family. If this is successful, it'll likely be the major earner, an obvious analogy being the add-on channels sold by cable TV companies as extras to the basic package.

Office.NET New UI technology pops up here too, in the shape of the "universal canvas" technology intended to combine communication, browsing and document authoring into a single environment, enabling users to synthesize and interact with information in a unified way. Universal collaboration services will enable anyone to collaborate with people inside and outside their companies. At the moment it's not really possible to say what this will look like though. In releasing Whistler beta 1 Microsoft stressed that we should bear in mind that the UI currently in the beta probably looks nothing like the one that'll eventually ship. This is more likely to be determined by beta 2 stage. Translation: we haven't figured it out yet?

A new architecture, based on smart clients and services, will provide rich functionality, performance and automatic deployments on any device. This again is work in progress, and clearly real estate considerations will make the experience a lot different on, say, a mobile phone. Alongside this, Microsoft says it will continue to offer and support versions of Office without .NET services.

Visual Studio.NET XML-based programming model and tools, fully supported by MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) and .NET Enterprise Servers. This is intended to enable the delivery of highly distributed, programmable services that run across standalone machines, in corporate data centers and across the Internet. Its release next year will allow developers to get started on .NET-enabled applications.

bCentral for .NET Microsoft's range of subscription-based services and tools for small and growing businesses. Includes hosted messaging and e-mail, enhanced commerce services, and a new customer relationship management (CRM) service built on the .NET platform. Functionality will include support for complex hosted catalogs and the ability to track interactions with individual customers, to enable personalized service.

Other basic .NET components are e-mail, calendaring, instant messaging, Web site publishing, document authoring, and similar capabilities will be built into the basic .NET platform, which will initially run on Windows.NET 1.0 (code-named "Whistler"), the next version of Windows 2000. In the future, other devices such as cell phones and PDAs will be able to use .NET components as well.

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