2002: Year of .Net

Microsoft to unleash many products built on software-as-a-service plan.

Microsoft Corp. watchers are dubbing 2002 "the year of .Net" as the software company prepares to release products that will build on its software-as-a-service vision.

Releases slated for the new year include the Visual Studio .Net 2002 development suite, the Windows .Net Server family and the Tablet PC. The companys teams are also working on the next version of Office and the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, as well as Visual Studio .Net 2003.

In addition, sources close to the Redmond, Wash., company said it is moving ahead with plans for a Home Network server that will connect computers, electronics and home appliances. A prototype of the device might be shown in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Despite the companys enthusiasm, some enterprise users are expressing concern about the endless upgrade cycles to which they are subjected, along with the fact that they barely get the latest version running before the upgrade hits the shelves.

John Persinger, an internal network administrator for Source4 Inc., in Roanoke, Va., said that when Windows 2000 was released, companies were not given enough time or information to plan or complete migrations. They had little choice but to either move quickly to the new operating system or remain behind.

"Will these new products shorten the life of those just released and which could have the potential to be shaped into something stable and usable?" asked Persinger. "Or will the marketing staff outweigh the technical staff and redirect valuable resources?"

A systems administrator for a large retailer in Boston said it seems that the entire purpose of Windows XP, released this fall, was to drive people to Microsoft or its preferred services.

"This is obviously the foot in the door to force people to use their services, and the one thing that I absolutely do not want from my operating system is to force me into things, especially when theyre going to force me to pay for it in the future," the administrator said. "I dont trust Microsoft. Unfortunately, trust is whats needed to make .Net succeed, and like any relationship, without trust it will just collapse."

One thing IT managers and developers will have to be prepared for, should they follow Microsofts course, is the new XML data tag file structure that is central to .Net and expected to be part of Longhorn. The first beta of the software is expected in the second half of 2002 but should ship in 2003.

In addition, sources said the Windows release due to follow Longhorn in 2005, code-named Blackcomb, will include Storage+, a relational file system that might be combined with the Windows Registry, Exchange Server, Active Directory and other products. While Microsoft officials have not given details regarding Longhorn, Shawn Sanford, group product manager for XP, acknowledged that Microsoft wants to improve its storage model and move to unified storage.

"To say right now that well have a unified storage model in the next version of Windows would be premature," Sanford said. "But we are continuing to work on this, as its a way we can redefine how the PC is used and how data is accessed from different places. ... There are a bunch of people working on that."

Microsoft has also been reluctant to give details about the next version of Office, which is expected to be the first fully .Net version of the suite. Sources said a Web and subscription offering is likely with this version.

Microsoft officials have acknowledged that Office will increasingly focus on a subscription-based service model and that the technology will concentrate on how to deliver a more Web-based set of productivity tools.

Office XP Product Manager Nicole von Kaenel said the first beta of the next version will be released "sometime next year," with the final product shipping in early 2003.

Microsoft is also preparing to release a Visual Studio .Net version at an event in San Francisco Feb. 13. The new software will offer developers a set of tools for creating XML Web services and includes the .Net Framework, which is built on industry standards and supports multiple programming languages.

Microsoft released the third beta for its Windows .Net Server family late in 2001. This will be followed by the first release candidate in the first quarter of 2002; a second release candidate; and then the final code, which is expected to ship in mid-2002. Windows .Net Server will be the platform for Microsofts XML Web services. It supports XML and the .Net Framework, said Bob OBrien, group product manager for Microsofts Windows Server division.