With the outline of its .NET "software as a service" strategy on the table, Microsoft is trying to win over an important group that must help fill in the blanks: software developers.
Microsoft was expected to pepper the attendees of its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Florida last week with product announcements. The software giant was set to give developers a technology preview of Visual Studio.NET, and release the Internet Explorer 5.5. Web browser.
"This is the critical audience for .NET now," said Dwight Davis, an analyst at US-based Summit Strategies. "The strategy is so far out, and there has to be so much development industry-wide for it to materialise, that step number one is to get as many developers on board as possible. This is the proving ground to sell .NET to [Microsoft's] core constituency."
The .NET platform will incorporate various user interfaces and building block services that rely heavily on XML and the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) standard, which uses XML to provide a common messaging format, in order to make Microsoft software available over the Internet to PCs and other devices.
John Montgomery, group product manager for the Microsoft.NET platform, said the Visual Studio.NET release will include new XML grammars as part of Microsoft's efforts to further embrace the "standard protocols that are mandatory for the delivery of software".
"The whole point of SOAP is interoperability," said US-based analyst Meta Group's Melinda Ballou. "SOAP will not kill Java; it actually makes Microsoft's option a viable alternative in a world where it wasn't before, and vice versa, so you have a lingua franca, not something that is proprietary."
In addition to sharing a new integrated development environment, the various tools in Visual Studio will have a .NET twist. JScript .NET, for example, will add support for classes, inheritance, and compilation. Visual C++ .NET will update Visual C++ with managed language extensions and the recently unveiled C# language.
Enhancements to Visual Basic .NET will include inheritance, multi-threading, drag-and-drop Web service creation, rapid application development (RAD) programmability on the server, and a Web form designer that allows developers to create Web pages visually and write compiled VB code behind them.
A key new technology in the .NET Framework is Active Server Pages+, a Web-centric update to the Active Server Pages (ASP) programming framework. Developers will be able to migrate existing ASP applications to ASP+, and improve functions such as security, performance and caching. ASP+ will also allow developers to build applications that run inside a browser without requiring a Web server to be present, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft will also discuss its XML-based, .NET version of ActiveX Data Objects (ADO) with ADO+.