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The development of applications that take full advantage of .NET is critical to its ultimate success. Microsoft is preparing Visual Studio.NET for release in early 2001. There will be a number of significant changes available in this developer suite. The most important revolve around the new C# (C sharp) language that is a hybrid of C/C++, and also incorporates the best feature of Java.

The Extended Markup Language or XML is the basis for Internet application development within the .NET Framework. The hope is that through the use of XML, interoperability between platforms can be assured. Additionally, through the use of Microsoft extensions to XML, COM/COM+ objects and CORBA objects will be able to communicate with each other. The object communications work is being developed in conjunction with IBM and other third-party developers as part of the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP).

As this is being written, Microsoft's .NET roadmap is already starting to unfold. The first .NET technology release was MSN 6, which gives you an idea of how the user interface might change, but not necessarily what it will ultimately look like.. An alpha version of Visual Studio 7, which will be given to developers in mid-July 2000, will usher in the first .NET technologies for programmers, so that these people can begin working on applications that will run as Web services. And Office 10 and Whistler are also in beta. Office 10, as previously mentioned, isn't a .NET technology per se, but Whistler certainly includes some. Whistler represents the 1.0 version of Windows.NET, a new kind of Windows that will offer an infrastructure and base for .NET services. A future version of Windows (such as Windows.NET 2.0, code-named "Blackcomb") will complete the .NET picture when it is released in two to three years.

To a great extent Microsoft is facing both ways with .NET. It'll be continuing to push Windows 2000 as the cornerstone of its product lines, but alongside this it will be encouraging IT managers to deploy .NET components across the network as they're completed, and it will be offering .NET itself and through third parties to individual users.

Slowly but surely the company anticipates that people will find themselves taking advantage of .NET, and the paradigm will gently shift, without a clear and obvious cut-off point between one and the other. Microsoft has of course tended to develop the Windows platform in this way in the past, so the key difference here is probably scale, rather than methodology. In that sense it's maybe a 'bet the company' strategy, but if the bet doesn't come off there will still be a lot of room for corrective modification, just in case. ®

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