While we wait for Microsoft's .NET vision to evolve, the company's Visual Studio.NET (originally Visual Studio—VS—7.0) and Office 10 betas provide some tantalizing previews of .NET technology. Visual Studio.NET includes the .NET Framework, which future versions of Windows 2000 (i.e., Whistler, Blackcomb, and Windows.NET) will also contain. The .NET Framework is the heart of Microsoft .NET, according to Paul Maritz, vice president of Microsoft's Platforms Strategy and Developer Group. The framework provides a language-neutral development and execution environment for building and running the Web services that will power Microsoft .NET. With support for the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), the .NET Framework extends two of Microsoft's most popular technologies: Active Server Pages (ASP) and COM+.

Visual Studio.NET also includes updates to Visual Basic (VB), Visual C++ (VC++), and Visual FoxPro, while providing support for a new language called C# (pronounced "C sharp"). Notably absent from this list are Visual InterDev, the company's previous Web site editor, and Visual J++ (VJ++), which supported Java. Microsoft says Sun Microsystems' lawsuit has forced the company to stop development of its Java product but says C# should fill the gap nicely. Visual Studio.NET provides one user interface (UI) for all its development tools, finally realizing the IDE goal that Microsoft first discussed in late 1996.

Microsoft demonstrated the next version of its Office productivity suite, Office 10, to financial analysts before releasing the first beta to testers earlier this year. The Office 10 beta features a minor subset of .NET technology, such as smart hyperlinking and a voice-activated interface, as well as some non-.NET-exclusive ease-of-use features, such as simpler dialog boxes and a streamlined UI. An upcoming XML-based server application, code-named Tahoe, will work with Office 2000 and Office 10, simplifying the products' ability to collaborate, find, share, and publish information online. Microsoft has slated the Tahoe document-management software to ship in early 2001.

To facilitate the transition to .NET, Microsoft said it will spend $4.4 billion on .NET-related research and development during the next fiscal year. ".NET is our platform," announced Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates. "Everything that exists on Windows will exist here." Of course, with a strategy shift this dramatic, Microsoft executives warn that the company won't be able to maintain mammoth growth rates. "I won't call our desktop business mature," Microsoft President and CEO Steve Ballmer said. "But it isn't going to grow 25 or 30 percent a year."