RealTime IT News

Microsoft Hits Ground Running with .NET

Microsoft Corp. took another step in the realization of its .NET strategy for XML-based Web services Wednesday with the release of its Visual Studio.NET suite of development tools, including a final version of its .NET Framework software development kit (SDK), to manufacturers.

The company will release Visual Studio.NET generally during VSLive! San Francisco, held Feb. 11 to 16. Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will kick off the launch on Feb. 13 with a keynote speech.

The .NET Framework SDK is an environment for building, deploying and running XML Web services and other applications. It consists of three main parts: the Framework classes, ASP.NET and the common language runtime. It supplies DLLs, tools, compilers and samples.

The .NET Framework Class Library, in turn, lies at the core of the .NET Framework. It supplies the syntax, code examples and related information for each class contained in the .NET Framework namespaces. In other words, it is a comprehensive collection of objects that form the starting point for the creation of any .NET application. Database access, XML manipulation, standardized user interface features and other functionality is intended to handle all of the "plumbing" and technical details, allowing developers to concentrate on actually developing business applications.

Meanwhile, the common language runtime allows developers to create applications using any modern programming language. Companies are already working on modules that allow developers to write .NET applications using COBOL, Ada, Haskal, SmallTalk, Java, Perl, Python and others.

Visual Studio.NET is built on the foundation of the .NET Framework, and is intended as a single, unified development environment. It automatically creates the necessary XML and SOAP interface needed to turn an application into an XML Web service. Visual Studio.NET features Visual Basic.NET, which now includes new object oriented programming features; Visual C++; and C#, a hybrid of C and C++ intended to compete with Sun's Java language. C# is an object-oriented language and boasts type-safety, garbage collection, simplified type declarations, versioning and scalability support, and other features that make developing solutions faster and easier, especially for COM+ and Web services.

A host of third party software component author companies leapt out of the woodwork Wednesday to hail Microsoft's Release to Manufacturing (RTM) of Visual Studio.NET. ComponentSource, a marketplace and community for reusable software components for all platforms, said Wednesday that a third of its 640 member strong community of companies have joined the ComponentSource .NET ComponentBuilder Program and have pledged to release Microsoft .NET software components through 2002. And of that number, ComponentSource said 25 percent will offer final "off-the-shelf" .NET components as early as February, with estimates that .NET will account for between 20 percent and 30 percent of their revenues over the year.

"ASP.NET enables applications that would have been awkward or impossible in classic ASP," said Carl Messina, vice president of Sales and Marketing with Brookline, Mass.-based SoftArtisans, which specializes in server controls and components. "Our customers can now use visual server-based controls and components to build robust functionality much faster than ever before. Since ASP.NET is such a compelling improvement over classic ASP, we estimate that over the course of the year .NET will represent 20 to 35 percent of our business."

Dan Haught, vice president of Product Development for FMS Inc., which specializes in developer tools for Microsoft Access, Visual Basic and SQL Server, added, "We have a large customer base of developers using Visual Basic, VBA, and COM technologies. Roughly 20 percent to 50 percent are actively developing for .NET and the rest are evaluating the new platform. We see two strong customer desires when it comes to .NET: easing the learning curve, and becoming more productive in less time. To that end, we are launching a suite of developer tools created from the group up in C# and VB.NET for the Visual Studio.NET environment. For our own development staff, Visual Studio.NET has given us the ability to create developer solutions in far less time than with previous development platforms, which is allowing us to bring our products to market much faster than before."

FMS is not the only company creating tools in C# from the ground up. ComponentSource said the majority of participants in its .NET ComponentBuilder Program have begun by developing native C# versions of the most popular components in their existing product lines, and are taking advantage of the .NET Framework to offer new feature-rich client and server-side components that expand their product lines. Participants are also testing their existing COM components to ensure that they will run on the .NET Framework, creating the potential for thousands more off-the-shelf components within the year.

Still, despite the upsurge in interest surrounding .NET, analysts are questioning Microsoft's ability to deliver 24/7 reliability for Web services. On Tuesday, Microsoft finally fixed a glitch in its Windows Update service which denied users access to the service for five days. The outage was caused by a technician's error, according to the company. Part of the backbone of .NET Web services is Microsoft's Passport authentication service, which relies on the availability of Microsoft's servers.