Is this Internet strategy the next Big Thing?

Microsoft is betting the company on a new Internet strategy. To demonstrate that the company is serious about the Internet, Microsoft is becoming Microsoft .NET and appending .NET to many product names. For example, you'll soon see Windows.NET, Office.NET, Visual Studio.NET, and MSN.NET, among other name changes. Microsoft's goal is to raise the bar on the Web user experience and supply the distributed Web services that will make a heightened user experience a reality. Whether you subscribe to an ASP for your applications or host them yourself, Microsoft wants to provide the ultimate .NET environment.

All Bets Are Off
Only 1 year ago, Bill Gates said he was "betting the company" on Windows 2000. Has Microsoft won that bet? No way. Most of you have just begun planning or implementing your Win2K installation. The market is still years away from being dominated by a Win2K architecture. So, is Win2K already obsolete now that Microsoft has announced Windows.NET?

Today, the Web's client side is largely a browser (i.e., read-only) environment. Tim Berners-Lee, the Web's inventor, originally intended the Web to be a collaborative (i.e., multiuser read/write) environment. Microsoft's .NET user interface promises to fulfill Berners-Lee's vision. For example, you'll be able to use Windows.NET and Office.NET to collaborate with other users on documents across the Internet. In addition, you'll be able to store all your user configuration and other user data on the Internet so that users can freely move between PCs and Web-enabled devices. To achieve this new Web experience, Microsoft claims you'll need Windows.NET as your client OS. Ironically, Microsoft will be pushing Windows.NET as you're finishing the implementation of Win2K Professional in your organization.

To implement Microsoft's .NET version of distributed Web services, you'll need to develop applications that use XML and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). Microsoft will fully exploit these technologies in Microsoft .NET Server (formerly Windows Distributed interNet Applications—Windows DNA) products such as SQL Server and BizTalk, as well as in Visual Studio.NET's development environment. From what I can tell, you should be able to create applications based on these technologies without upgrading to any future Windows.NET server OS.

A New Vision
If Microsoft is successful in creating a more automated, voice-activated, anywhere, anytime Web environment, the company believes it can move the high-tech industry to adopt Microsoft's .NET products. To reach this goal, Microsoft needs to give developers the tools to create Web-based applications that have all the functionality and flexibility of the Win32 applications we use today. For example, the Web-based versions of Word.NET, Excel.NET, and Outlook.NET will need to work as well as their Win32 counterparts so that end users will use and accept them. In addition, Microsoft will need to combine Windows and Internet Explorer (IE) in a way that lets applications achieve a greater level of Web interactivity than we're currently accustomed to. If users enjoy the new Internet experience and developers code to that new standard, other browsers, such as Netscape, will need to follow Microsoft's lead or fall by the wayside. If the latter happens, most people will experience the Internet through Microsoft .NET's vision.

Over time, Microsoft will deliver .NET-based applications through a subscription-based model. A basic subscription to MSN.NET will provide an Internet connection, email, calendar, and basic content. A premium subscription could include Office.NET and the additional storage necessary to hold your personal data. Beyond that, Microsoft will probably buy Web-based service companies to round out its subscription offerings. Business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce, wireless synchronization, financial services, and human resources (HR) services are all potential acquisition targets. Rather than compete with ASPs, Microsoft will position itself to offer infrastructure for ASPs. The reality is that some of Microsoft's premium subscription services will compete with ASPs for common applications. Microsoft will therefore encourage ASPs to focus on line-of-business applications.

I believe that Microsoft will need to make .NET technologies available for Win2K and Windows NT as a free add-on. The risk inherent in Microsoft's .NET strategy is that IT professionals will simply bypass Win2K and wait for Windows.NET. Microsoft's developers are going to have to lead the way with great developer tools and proof-of-concept applications such as Office.NET. Microsoft says that moving from Windows to .NET will be a bigger shift than moving from DOS to Windows. Let's hope the ride is a lot less bumpy.