What is Microsoft thinking?

Last month, I outlined Microsoft's new .NET strategy. It's about making applications Web-aware and establishing the infrastructure to deliver them. .NET aims to transform the Web into a collaborative (i.e., multiuser read, update, and delete) environment instead of today's predominately read-only environment. .NET is a framework for distributing collaborative applications across the Internet. Whether they're hosted on your servers or somebody else's is a secondary consideration. In the .NET model, software becomes a service.

Microsoft says that .NET is the company's future, and everything now revolves around establishing this platform. Because Microsoft is focusing so much attention on .NET before companies have even begun to widely deploy Windows 2000 Server, I had some burning questions about how Win2K fits into Microsoft's .NET strategy. I asked Microsoft's .NET team to answer some of these questions.

Win2K vs. Windows.NET
If .NET is a revolutionary strategic platform for Microsoft, I wondered whether readers of this magazine should even deploy Win2K or just wait for Windows.NET. I learned that Microsoft considers Win2K to be the fundamental platform for building a .NET infrastructure. According to Bob O'Brien, group product manager for Windows 2000, "Windows 2000 Server is a building block and fundamental in delivering services in the overall .NET environment. Windows 2000 Professional is the foundation for Windows.NET. We recommend that customers interested in a future migration to Windows .NET should start deploying Windows 2000 Professional today. Microsoft will continue to maintain and support its current Windows platform for organizations and users who are not planning to migrate to the new .NET platform."

Active Directory (AD) is one aspect of Win2K that isn't clear in relationship to .NET. Implementing AD is a huge task, so should you bother with it if it's not central to the .NET strategy? Will Microsoft make AD authentication a standard Web development object? Today, we think of AD as a place to store information about our internal users. Tomorrow, we might look at AD as a place to store information about our customers, suppliers, partners, and end users. For example, the Windows 2000 Magazine Network (http://www.win2000mag.net/) has more than 1 million unique users each month, many of whom subscribe to the print magazine. Looking toward .NET, should we use AD to authenticate unique users for premium Web services? If so, then scalability of our Win2K infrastructure takes on a whole new meaning.

Microsoft Servers and .NET
In addition to Win2K itself, how do the Microsoft Server products fit into the .NET strategy? For example, SQL Server 2000 supports XML and other core parts of the .NET framework, and so does Exchange 2000 Server. But are SQL Server 2000 and Exchange 2000 necessary for a .NET infrastructure?

Jeff Ressler, Microsoft's lead product manager for SQL Server, said, "SQL Server is not necessary for implementing a .NET infrastructure. However...SQL Server will have the deepest integration with the .NET platform of any database product. That means greater integration with and support for Visual Studio.NET as well as the ability to efficiently and securely expose data via Web services."

Microsoft's Chris Baker, lead product manager for Exchange Server, said, "Exchange 2000 is a key component of the Microsoft .NET platform. Along with the other enterprise servers, Exchange 2000 provides full support for XML. Its new Web Storage System natively stores XML data so developers can build rich Web-based collaborative applications as well as easily exchange information with other applications."

Baker noted, "Additionally, Exchange 2000 delivers on the 'software as a service' tenet of .NET. It provides the scalability, availability, and performance to support millions of users operating in a hosted environment. In addition to the core-messaging infrastructure that Exchange 2000 provides to our ASP partners, Exchange expands the range of services that ASPs can provide to their customers. These new communication/collaboration services include instant messaging, conferencing (audio, video, and data), unified messaging, chat, and team collaboration workspaces."

What Does It All Mean?
I think Microsoft is undermining its Win2K message by placing so much emphasis on .NET right now. The company is sending mixed messages to its current and potential customers.

Are you confused about Win2K and .NET? Well, O'Brien seems to give direction: "Customers who have already built on the Windows 2000 foundation will definitely be at a time-to-market advantage over someone holding off and trying to do it all at once." Let me know what you think.