Greetings,
Microsoft finally launched its long-awaited Visual Studio .NET developer tools suite last week, an event that observers expect to dramatically jump-start the development of .NET-based Web Services. At the launch keynote in San Francisco, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates highlighted why a developer product—typically a niche release—is actually crucial to the company's future success. Developer products wouldn't typically generate a lot of excitement, but Gates is excited by Visual Studio .NET and the future services it will enable.

"Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework are among the most important products ever released by Microsoft and underscore our long-term commitment to developer success," Gates said during the keynote. "As the first fully integrated development environment for building XML Web Services and next-generation Internet applications, Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework will enable the next big wave of developer opportunity, creating XML Web Services that will soon become the basis for all major new software development."

Visual Studio .NET momentum is hard to ignore: Microsoft distributed more than 3.5 million copies of Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework during the beta testing, the most for any Microsoft beta. Since Microsoft finalized the product in January 2002, more than 350,000 developers received the code from Microsoft's developer program, Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN). Here are some other important statistics: More than 250,000 developers have trained on Visual Studio .NET, 190 add-on tools for Visual Studio .NET are available at launch, and more than 200 Visual Studio .NET-related book titles are available.

But Microsoft isn't the only company taking advantage of the groundswell of support that this long-overdue release has generated. Developer-tools-maker Borland Software has also announced its own .NET-based programming environments, including Delphi .NET and C++Builder .NET, which will move that company's customers over to the .NET Framework as well.

Compaq, meanwhile, will bridge the schism between Microsoft's .NET strategy and Sun Microsystems' Java, the other major player in the Web Services arena. Compaq said it will integrate Web Services designed on the competing platforms for its customers, effectively minimizing problems that might have cropped up if these customers had to choose one platform over the other.

And finally, Xerox announced that it has rewritten its printer-administration software for the .NET Framework, thus allowing Web Services to automatically monitor the company's networked printers and alert users and administrators across networks, including the Internet. Because of the deep integration between Web Services and printer hardware, corporate printer administrators can learn of problems before the problems affect users. According to Xerox, this proactive approach would be difficult to implement without .NET.

Another topic I've been trying to get a handle on is this year's release schedule for .NET My Services (formerly code-named HailStorm), the set of core consumer-oriented .NET services. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2002, Microsoft representatives told me that the company would phase in .NET My Services throughout 2002. Microsoft's .NET My Services software development kit (SDK), which will let third-party developers using Visual Studio .NET take advantage of .NET My Services in their own applications and services, will be updated soon and refreshed in third quarter 2002. Microsoft will provide a test-data center during second quarter 2002 so that third-party developers can test these nascent applications and services against live data in the real world. The final shipping version of the .NET My Services data center could be ready by the end of 2002. When that happens, the services will be live for end users, and the transition to .NET will be in full swing. And if third-party developers get on board quickly, we might actually see cool services based on .NET My Services by the end of the year. I'm eager to see what they come up with.