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WSEdge 2002: Despite hype, .NET is a step forward

At Web Services Edge East 2002, expert Richard Hale Shaw said .NET is a replacement for nearly every developer-oriented Microsoft technology since 1984 and offers many benefits for developers.

NEW YORK -- Microsoft's relentless marketing campaign for its .NET platform has been hard to miss. Though one expert believes the hype has cast a shadow on the product, .NET's substance manages to reign over its style.

In an educational session this week at Web Services Edge East 2002, Richard Hale Shaw, founder of consultancy the Richard Hale Shaw Group, said few people outside IT circles know that .NET is Microsoft's platform for developing XML Web services because the .NET marketing campaign has failed to explain it.

"They've bought four-page ads in The New York Times, but... their campaigns have no substance and their ads are meaningless," said Shaw.

In reality, Shaw said .NET is a replacement or repackaging of nearly every developer-oriented Microsoft technology since 1984, including the Windows API, COM, ADO/OLEDB, ODBC, ADO, RDO and ASP for Web development and others.

"We're not talking about a couple of patches here and there, like [Microsoft's] done in the past," said Shaw.

Shaw said .NET serves as a new infrastructure layer on top of the operating system and beneath applications and components, allowing developers to harness and reuse anything in a Windows DLL or COM server.

However, one of .NET's disadvantages is its lack of portability. Despite Microsoft's promises, Shaw said .NET technology is only able to run on top of Windows.

Eventually, he said .NET will run on a handful of other operating systems as Microsoft sees fit, most likely versions of Linux, but that could take years. When that happens, Shaw said applications that target .NET, not the operating system it runs on, will be portable to those additional operating systems.

As far as developers are concerned, Shaw said .NET is an improvement over COM or Win32 technology. For instance, while only binary compatibility was available with COM, the core data type support in .NET allows a developer to use Visual Basic.NET, C# or J# on the same component.

Also, with the previous technology, Shaw said type information was not always supplied, so no information about assemblies was available. In .NET, Meta data is always generated in assemblies.

Regarding Visual Basic.NET, Shaw said it was a "first-class object-oriented programming language that surpasses the highly destructive VB6."

With VB6, Shaw said Microsoft was attempting to ease developers into the changes that would be ushered in with VB.NET, but the "training wheels" Microsoft put on the language did more harm than good.

He said programmer productivity with VB.NET is so vastly increased over VB6 that a large-scale development project that took a year to complete with VB6 could now take three to four months with VB.NET.

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Regarding Java, Shaw said Java code written with Java Developer Kit (JDK) 1.1 and J++ can easily be ported to .NET, but as a result of the legal battles between Microsoft and Sun, code written in JDK 1.3 must be recoded.

One developer in attendance who works for FleetBoston but declined to be identified said his company is still investigating how Web services would help the business run better. He said his company primarily uses Java, but he wanted to investigate .NET as well.

Mark Walton, director of IT e-business services with Exelon in Philadelphia, said he attended the event to gain a better literacy of Web services.

"Everybody's view of Web services is different," Walton said. "It's as much a concept as it is a technology. You can't just read a manual and learn it."

Walton said his company has no specific plans to implement Web services, but the process would be especially complicated because his company's infrastructure is a mix of Microsoft and Java technologies.

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