.Net: 3 Years of the Vision Thing

Customers weigh in on Microsoft's Web services progress.

The end of last month marked the third anniversary of Microsofts launch of its .Net strategy, which executives such as Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said at the time was a "bet-the-company thing." But three years later, reactions are mixed as to whether that strategy, along with the vision that accompanied it, has played out as the Redmond, Wash., software developer had hoped.

Rob Helms, research director for Directions on Microsoft, a research company that tracks Microsoft, in Kirkland, Wash., said the .Net initiative described a

vision for how software and the Internet would evolve; a new platform for software development that supported the vision; and a new business—application hosting—that would drive future growth for the company.

"Three years later, most of the hopes behind the .Net initiative have not been realized," Helms said, adding that .Net has now almost vanished from Microsofts vocabulary.

But others, including Microsoft executives, disagreed. "I think it is important to emphasize that .Net is our Web services strategy across the company and is fundamentally something we are absolutely committed to," said Neil Charney, director of Microsofts Platform Strategy Group, in an interview recently.

Charney also defended Microsofts recent decision to drop the .Net moniker from almost all product names, which has created the perception among some that the strategy was being abandoned.

"When we shifted to Windows, we made a lot of noise about that move, and in some ways, weve done that with .Net," Charney said. "But as that became infused in everything we do, we are no longer using it as a version moniker. Its an assumed capability in every product."

Regarding the vision painted three years ago, it was first just that—a vision, Charney said. Microsoft was really trying to articulate the characteristics of this new model of computing, what it would deliver at the end of the day. A broad vision was painted that "is certainly a vision that has kept us focused over the past few years of connecting information, people, systems and devices. Were very much committed to that vision," he said.

The first phase of .Net targeted the developers—delivering the tools and technologies to enable them to start building solutions—while the second phase, over the past year, has been providing businesses with an understanding of the value of back-end integration and why it is important to their business.

Charney acknowledges there is still a lot more work to do. "If you look back from where we were three years ago, its been incredible progress," he said. "But is there more work to do? Absolutely."

Some enterprise customers, such as Tony Scott, General Motor Corp.s chief technology officer for Information Systems and Services, in Detroit, are already driving Web services through their companies. "One of the ways we are currently using Web services is by creating wrappers around legacy systems in our factory environment, which is allowing us to extract information from those systems and deal with the factory environment at a higher level," Scott said.

According to Scott, they may have an inventory management system thats home-grown in one factory and SAP AG in another, depending on when that factory had its last refresh. But if someone wanted to look at inventory information across a broad set of factories in the past, the company had to resort to a lot of hand-wiring.

While GMs Scott said he believes that Microsofts vision of .Net as initially laid out three years ago was probably not the way it would ultimately materialize, the company was doing a credible job of moving the ball along and delivering the components and pieces for its Web services vision. Even areas such as security had been slower to develop than hoped, but that, too, is now moving along well.

On the thorny issue of the .Net platform versus Sun Microsystems Inc.s Java platform, Directions on Microsofts Helms said the slow growth of Web services has prevented Microsoft from driving adoption of the .Net platform or giving it a leg up on Java. The .Net platform itself has been hampered by immature Web service standards.

However, GMs Scott issued a strong warning to Microsoft, Sun and the other players in the Web services industry, that enterprises will not tolerate the standards wars of the past. "We have no appetite for it," he said.

Looking forward, Charney said Microsofts top priority with .Net over the next year involves continuing to integrate it within all its products, and, as that Web services stack got higher and higher in capabilities in terms of security, reliability and transactional capability, that would be infused in more of its products. "Thats where we are focused currently and moving forward and enabling that vision that we described three years ago," Charney said.

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