For developers, the world changed last week. On Feb. 13 in San Francisco, Microsoft launched Visual Studio .Net, the biggest set of changes to its development strategy since Visual Basic 1.0 in 1991 introduced a new paradigm for visual programming on Windows.
Those changes—the .Net run-time engine, .Net class libraries, new Java-like language C#, redesigned Visual Basic language and rewritten Visual Studio .Net development environment—are Microsofts foundation for a new generation of Windows and Web applications.
For IT, there are exciting new opportunities to develop more-secure applications, install and uninstall applications using simple file copy operations, have fewer application conflicts through the new component versioning system, and combine the services of several programs into one using Web services.
Visual Studio .Net and .Net Framework also boast wholehearted support for multilanguage development, and acceptance of the C# language and .Net Common Language Infrastructure run-time environment specifications as ECMA standards this past December.
However, there are some things about Visual Studio .Net that are bound to rub some developers the wrong way. For example, since .Net Framework doesnt run on Windows 95, no .Net application will, either, although Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0 are supported.
And there is the specter of Microsoft exerting the kind of market control that reduces developer choices. We call on Microsoft to continue to support languages other than those it has developed, as well as to encourage the development of third-party .Net run-time implementations on Unix operating systems such as Ximians Mono and the Free Software Foundations DotGNU so .Nets cross-platform promise can be fulfilled.
But most important, while .Net development technologies are seductive, they are also highly disruptive. Internalizing an entirely new API will require retraining programmers from "Hello World" forward and setting aside knowledge that took years to acquire. But the huge learning curve must not distract IT from its core mission of building applications—on time and on budget—that enhance productivity. Still, the technologies in Visual Studio .Net are compelling, and if IT executives are cautious in where and how they deploy the new platform, the payoff should follow.