Microsoft was going hard at it, assaulting 650 developers at its Tech-Ed 2001 event with wave after wave of technical sessions (about 60, at a rough count) on .Net, its rendition of web services. And the developers I ran into couldn't get enough of it. In contrast to IT managers spoken to at the same event a year ago, this year’s audience was barely containing its excitement at the opportunities .Net seemed to present them with.
Instead of words like “sceptical” and “too much in the future”, the common responses from IT managers last August, this time around it was “fabulous” and “fantastic” from developers interrogated between sessions.
Did I somehow stumble across a bunch of people in Microsoft’s pay, sent sidling in my direction to help pump up the marketing volume? Apparently not: one admitted he’d been given a free pass to the event (most people paid about $1300 to be there); one was a Microsoft solution provider; another was already creating products using .Net components; and another was an IT manager from a distant part of the country keen to learn all about it. While they willingly tucked into the fine catering provided by the event sponsors – which included, by the way, IDG Communications, Computerworld’s publisher – they were all well aware that they were unlikely to hear ill spoken of .Net. Yet try as I did to get them to tell me what they REALLY thought of it all, they stayed steadfastly positive.
What’s happened in the past 12 months to dispel the scepticism? An awful lot of marketing certainly has. And there’s an awful lot yet to come. When Windows XP is launched on October 25, for example, you can be sure its suitability as a web services platform will be part of the message – “more secure, more reliable, better performance” is what you’ll be told (so clearly Gartner is wrong when it sees no reason to upgrade – see story page 10). But also on the product front, further beta versions of .Net development tools have been released, giving developers something to get their teeth into. According to Microsoft's Greg Leake, the senior .Net cheerleader brought out from Redmond for Tech-Ed, the current beta of Visual Studio .Net is already a more stable tool than Visual Basic.
The single biggest thing that’s happened in the past 12 months, though, is that the hordes of .Net product marketers, Leake among them, have some real web services examples with which to illustrate their sales pitches. At the start of Tech-Ed IT journalists were treated to a demonstration of how a simple application can be created in moments incorporating web services dreamed up by third-parties (this is the opportunity Microsoft is dangling in front of developers). In this instance, the developer was Auckland company E-Formation, which had created a currency converter program, publishing it as a web service. Our demonstrator showed how this UDDI-compliant (stands for universal description, discovery and integration) web service could be found on an online directory of web services and, at the click of a button, integrated into his application (with a little tweaking to make sure the appropriate currencies and amounts were being converted). The next trick was to incorporate a Vodafone-created web service into the application so the freshly performed currency conversion could be notified to a cellphone (we saw it work, so it wasn’t fake).
I’ve undoubtedly provided a grossly simplified (but, hopefully, roughly accurate) description of a grossly simple application. But we’re journalists, remember – we can’t cope with too much technical stuff. That was reserved for the developer sessions, where more complicated examples were paraded in much more detail. But the effect was the same: suddenly, the potential of web services for integrating disparate applications from all manner of sources was apparent. And if it’s half as simple as it looked, we could all start developing them. To please Microsoft, we just need to make sure we use its tools and platforms.