Ever since Microsoft changed the name of Windows .NET Server 2003 to Windows Server 2003 and renamed the Microsoft .NET Enterprise Server family to Windows Server System, I've fielded questions from Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and readers about the future of .NET. Many of those people are confused by Microsoft's apparent change in strategy—particularly in light of the "bet the company on .NET" statements that Microsoft made so frequently in June 2000 after launching the .NET initiative.
The Fundamental Question
The basic question is, "If .NET is so important to Microsoft, why is Microsoft taking the .NET name off all its products?" Two follow-up questions typically come to mind. First, was .NET a failure because of the slow adoption of Visual Studio .NET and the fact that Web services never took off as a conduit for business-to-business (B2B) transactions? Second, does Microsoft plan to kill .NET?
That confusion is understandable. But, ironically, it's arising because Microsoft is trying to correct a blunder it made years ago.
The Cost of Confusion
The notion that Microsoft might abandon .NET is especially troubling for vendors who have wrapped their product strategies around the .NET brand. ISVs are confused when they perceive that Microsoft is apparently dropping a brand that they expected Microsoft to champion.
Such an action on Microsoft's part would hit hard because many ISVs have used the Windows .NET Framework to build products that fit into Microsoft's .NET vision, and the development cycle is too long for those ISVs to change their strategy now. With Microsoft appearing to back off from .NET, some ISVs fear that they've bet their own company's future on the wrong horse.
It's one thing for Microsoft to say that it's wagering its own success on a given product, but it's quite another thing for a small ISV to risk its business on the same product. Microsoft is a huge company that markets a plethora of products. If one of Microsoft's products—even a big, important one—fails, the company itself doesn't risk going out of business. However, if a small ISV stakes its success on a Microsoft product that subsequently fails, the ISV could easily fail as well.
For end users, the name change is less threatening but equally confusing. In spite of Microsoft's years of marketing and "customer education," most customers never came to understand what .NET is. Is .NET an OS? Is it a development tool? What's the .NET tie-in to the .NET server products such as Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server and Microsoft SQL Server 2000? Although Microsoft spent plenty of time and money trying to answer these simple questions over the course of 3 years, it was never able to successfully articulate the answers in a way that typical customers could relate to.
To set the record straight, Microsoft's dropping of the .NET name from its server products is neither a marketing failure nor an indication that .NET is dead. Rather, Microsoft has taken the opportunity to correct a mistake that it should never have made.
The name change was primarily the result of a long-overdue realization that no hard tie-in exists between the .NET moniker and products such as Windows Server, SQL Server, and Exchange. That lack of a connection accounts for Microsoft's inability to explain the relationship between .NET and those products—the relationship simply never existed. Those products' true connection is to the Windows OS, and Microsoft rightly adjusted their names to reflect that association.
Although Microsoft has pulled the .NET name out of the server line, the company has retained the name for its premier development platform: Visual Studio .NET. Although its adoption has been slow by Microsoft standards, Visual Studio .NET embodies a revolutionary change, and changes of that magnitude can't be adopted at the drop of a hat.
Additionally, keep in mind that an adoption that's slow by Microsoft standards would be considered a phenomenal success for most other companies. Web services, a core component of Visual Studio .NET, haven't yet evolved into the standard B2B tool that Microsoft envisioned, but they enjoy widespread use in intranet scenarios. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors that .NET is dead have been greatly exaggerated.