.Net Framework a Step Closer

Visual Studio .Net release candidate provides developers with more tools.

Microsoft Corp. has rolled out the near-final versions of software for its .Net platform, paving the way for developers to begin working in earnest to create .Net applications and Web services.

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates announced the availability of the first and only release candidate for Visual Studio .Net and the .Net Framework at the Professional Developers Conference held here last month.

Gates said the tools were "pretty much ready to go" and would be final before years end. He also announced the technology preview for the Smart Device Extensions for Visual Studio .Net and the Microsoft .Net Compact Framework.

Visual Studio.Net is the centerpiece tool set for building .Net applications, while the .Net Framework is Microsofts multilanguage component development and execution environment and includes the Common Language Runtime and Common Language Infrastructure.

The .Net Compact Framework will give developers designing mobile/ wireless applications a base set of services upon which to design applications.

Gates also told developers about the availability of a range of software development kits, including the .Net My Services SDK, .Net Alerts SDK, Tablet PC SDK, .Net Compact Framework SDK and .Net Speech SDK, which will allow developers to seamlessly embed speech enhancements into existing and new HTML, Extensible HTML and XML (Extensible Markup Language) Web applications.

"The release candidate for Visual Studio .Net is ready to go. All Microsoft is currently doing is fine-tuning it for performance and testing it across a range of configurations. But it is one of the most solid betas they have ever produced," said Sam Patterson, CEO of ComponentSource Inc., in Kennesaw, Ga., adding that the tools will go a long way to enhancing the sizable community that already exists around .Net.

Microsoft officials said in June when the Redmond, Wash., company released the second beta of Visual Basic .Net and Visual Studio .Net that the code was good enough to qualify beta users to get an ASP .Net Go Live license that allowed them to deploy applications in production environments.

Bob Muglia, Microsofts group vice president of .Net Services, said at the conference that some 5,000 customers, including Credit Suisse First Boston Inc., Marks and Spencer plc. and Pacific Life Insurance Co., had taken Microsoft up on the offer and deployed production solutions using the beta version of ASP .Net.

More than 2.5 million developers worldwide were involved in the beta testing program for Visual Studio .Net and the .Net Framework, while some 60 Visual Studio Integrator Program partners, such as ActiveState Corp., Compuware Corp. and Rational Software Corp., are building products that plug in and extend the Visual Studio .Net environment, Muglia added.

Patterson, whose company runs a marketplace of 7,000 components and tools written in various languages, said there is already broad developer interest in .Net, a fact underscored by the results of a ComponentSource study of 150,000 .Net and Java developers.

The study found that 79 percent of those polled will be evaluating or implementing .Net over the next year; 14 percent said they will be adopting or evaluating Java; and 7 percent said they will be evaluating and/or adopting both, Patterson said.

Gates also told developers that tools have always been effective in driving technology to the next wave of innovation and that XML Web services and Microsofts key Visual Studio .Net tool would be the catalysts for this going forward.

"Microsoft now has the key pieces around the .Net architecture: the servers, services and intelligent clients, which creates the foundation for .Net applications," Gates said. ".Net depends on three big bets: around XML, a new platform with smart clients and rich services connected by servers that provide great user experiences. Were talking about allowing user involvement in interacting with the application. Its a vision that includes peer-to-peer and allows you to work offline. Its a big shift from HTML."

Microsoft also has an aggressive product lineup going forward, which next year will include the release of the Tablet PC, Windows .Net Servers, .Net Enterprise Servers 2002, .Net MyServices and Visual Studio .Net.

Gates said releases planned for 2003 include the next version of the Windows operating system, currently code-named Longhorn, the Longhorn server line, .Net Enterprise Servers 2003, more .Net MyServices and another Visual Studio .Net product.

But some developers and engineers feel Microsoft may be spending too much time on endless product upgrades at the expense of product quality. A systems engineer who declined to be named said, "My concern is that the need to deliver one upgrade after the next may well result in the same haste and carelessness that many Microsoft products are known for."