MS developers voice .Net scepticism

Microsoft has faced a daunting task over the past week: persuading 6,000 developers to stick with its tools for the next two years while it follows through on the Microsoft.Net vision.

          Microsoft has faced a daunting task over the past week: persuading 6,000 developers to stick with its tools for the next two years while it follows through on the Microsoft.Net vision.

          Most of the faithful at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference here appeared to be dazzled by glimpses of the Microsoft.Net framework and accompanying tools. But they voiced skepticism about Microsoft’s ability to execute a strategy that requires a massive overhaul of tools and infrastructure.

          “One of my biggest worries is, do I really want to go with the. Net strategy? Because I think I will be sacrificing some cross-platform compatibility,” said Tom Thornton, an information technology manager at MIT. “They are calling the network the Web, but I see a lot of network capabilities being sacrificed. I can’t talk to other servers, for instance.”

          The .Net framework promises to transform Windows-based applications into Web sites that share services with applications written in other languages and for other operating systems.

          Microsoft.Net will require a 64-bit Windows operating system foundation, revamped tools, a host of XML-based standards and the patience of developers.

          Microsoft has just begun to upgrade its Visual Basic tools from a 32-bit environment to 64 bits and to push for the adoption of the new C# (pronounced “C sharp”) programming language. Microsoft officials readily acknowledge that it will take at least two years to execute the tools and operating system overhaul.

          “Its going to take a year before any of this can even begin to be implemented, and it’s not going to be as easy as they’re saying,” said Rusty Zarse, a Web developer at HPC Interactive. in Atlanta. “It’s still a great evolution in technology, but it’s not going to be a quick process.”

          Proof’s in the Pudding

          “The concept is good, but if it actually works, that would be fantastic,” said Jeremy Smith, a software developer at American General n Houston. “Microsoft always says a lot of good things, but whether it actually comes true remains to be seen.”

          Other developers shared that skepticism.

          “It’s not clear where Windows is going at this point. It looks like they are totally switching, and it seems like there is a lot of confusion going on within Microsoft,” said Sil Zendejas, a software developer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

          What struck the loudest chord with developers here was Microsoft’s pledge to make C# a standard and to support outside languages through its Microsoft Intermediate Language and Common Language Runtime (CLR), a universal engine for running different languages.

          In theory, by using CLR and an internal compiler to generate Microsoft Intermediate Language, developers could write applications in Pascal or Fortran that would run in the .Net environment. Microsoft officials said 17 third-party programming language development companies have agreed to support .Net.

          Zendejas said CLR could help the JPL better utilise the talents of Fortran and Cobol developers.

          “I’ve tried C#, and it’s still shaky, and [it will be] a while before it’s ready,” he said. “But at least they have something to give us so we won’t abandon the platform and go to Java.”

          “Compiling to an [intermediate language] has been attempted in the past, but it’s complex,” said Jim Rutherford, a senior research analyst at Southwest Research Institute, a maker of navigational systems in San Antonio. “We’ll have to see how well it does the job. We do high-performance work, so whether or not it will be applicable to us is something that we’ll have to see.”

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