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Microsoft .Net: Planning today could be an advantage tomorrow

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Microsoft .Net: Planning today could be an advantage tomorrow

With the release months away, many are still not ready to embrace this technology. However, now might be the time to learn about .Net because experts believe that it will be highly successful a few years down the road.

By Eric B. Parizo, Assistant News Editor

Understanding the many different ways Microsoft .Net may soon impact enterprise technology is about as easy as clawing into a watermelon with your bare hands.

Microsoft Corp. has already claimed that .Net, its upcoming XML-based Web services and application development platform, will revolutionize every industry from healthcare to manufacturing. But its full release is months away, and much of the IT community is still far from sold on it. In fact, Microsoft recently stated that the benefits of .Net wouldn't be fully realized until 2003.

With that said, is now the time to invest in .Net to gain a first-mover advantage over competitors? Or should cautious enterprises pursue Java-based development and give up on Microsoft altogether? Experts believe .Net will ultimately be a success, but developers and enterprises will challenge Microsoft to demonstrate .Net's worth every step of the way.

What it is

Essentially, .Net is a total overhaul of Microsoft's Web Solution

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Platform, or Distributed interNet Applications Architecture (DNA). In other words, it's the common code framework used by nearly all Microsoft applications, such as Windows, Internet Explorer and IIS Web server, and it is also the framework for third-party application development based on Microsoft technology.

Edward Roman, CEO of The Middleware Co., a consulting firm in Austin, Texas, said .Net is a significant improvement over prior Microsoft platforms.

"When you write programs that run in .Net, they are interpreted by another program, and that interpreter is like a (safety) container for your program," essentially keeping it secure, Roman said. "Also, the languages you program in are easier than with other technologies."

Those development languages, however, are where the praise for Microsoft ends and the controversy begins. Microsoft's upcoming software suite for developers, Visual Studio.Net, will not only include updated versions of stalwart programming languages Visual Basic and Visual C++, but will also introduce a new language called C# (pronounced C sharp), which has been heavily touted by Microsoft.

Tom Barnaby, lead instructor with developer training firm InterTech Inc. in St. Paul, Minn., said many of the millions of Visual Basic developers around the world have worried that Microsoft would phase out their language, basically making their knowledge obsolete, in favor of C#. Microsoft recently eased those fears somewhat by pledging to support both C# and VB.

Roman said C# is actually less like VB and more like Sun Microsystems' Java programming language, and is also far superior to Visual Basic and C++. However, most of the developer community is still debating its value.

"I think that it will undoubtedly become the de facto language for programming server side applications, if you're using .Net. I don't see a lot of people using VB anymore. I think C# is going to be the way to go," said Roman.

Barnaby disagreed. "The two languages are almost equal," he said, adding that each language has capabilities the other lacks.

Gartner's VP of Internet strategy, David Smith, said Visual Basic has the edge. "I think the majority of .Net development will still be done in VB, and it'll be just fine for people who have that expertise," he said.

Luckily, since even the experts disagree, most companies can bow out of the .Net debates for now, unless development is at the heart of their businesses. Roman said ISVs, consultants and large enterprises -- all of which depend heavily on profits from application development -- will be forced to choose a game plan early on.

Focusing development resources

So how should a typical Microsoft-centric enterprise decide where and how to focus its development resources? Roman said there are three choices, each with varying degrees of risk.

He said sticking with VB and C++ is the safest move, because both will remain viable on the .Net platform. Additionally, developers would require relatively little training to learn the new, .Net features added to each language.

Another option is to fully embrace .Net by investing early in C# training for developers, because of its perceived strength in building mission-critical applications. However, since C# has not yet been released and its true potential is still unknown, Roman recommended only "the visionary firms" that would benefit from being first to market with C# applications take that approach.

Finally, converting to Java development is also an option, but would likely mean abandoning a huge prior investment in workable Microsoft-based applications. New spending would also be required, mainly for training, which Barnaby said might not even be worthwhile.

"If you look at the learning curve to go from any of the current Microsoft technologies to .Net, it's going to be the same, if not a smaller, than going to Java would be," said Barnaby.

Roman said all three of those approaches should be viewed as long-term investments, as an ROI will not be immediate. An investment in training is never a bad decision, he said, especially regarding .Net, because if implemented properly its new technology could shave months off of development projects.

The bottom line, said Smith, is that there may be no wrong decision strategically, because .Net will gradually grow and prosper alongside Java for some time to come.

"Neither provides the solution to everything, so people are going to need both. They're not going to want everything on Microsoft platforms, and there's a lot of stuff out there that isn't Java, especially in large enterprises," Smith said.

MORE INFORMATION ON THIS TOPIC:
SearchWin2000 has a Featured Topic that explains .Net in more detail.
SearchVB has a Featured Topic on developer issues related to .Net

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This was first published in September 2001

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