Considering the significance of perception in the wider world, Microsoft has done a surprisingly shabby job of communicating its vision for .NET thus far. The company hopes to change this with the release of Windows XP, when it plans to launch a branding initiative to better position its .NET strategy. In the meantime, let's look at how Microsoft discusses this technology internally to see what might be in store for the future.
At a Windows XP technical reviewer's workshop in early February, Microsoft Executive Vice President Jim Allchin discussed .NET and the problems the company has had communicating what it's all about. "We have done a confusing job about what it is, and there is a lot in terms of branding going on now within the company," he said. "We will appropriately decorate Windows XP with the way we want .NET included—as an ingredient. We made a decision that .NET is a platform, but it's more of an ingredient brand than a product."
Allchin was careful to note that Windows XP is not a "bridge" to .NET, per se, but rather a component of the overall .NET strategy. The simple way to look at .NET is as programmable Internet technology, but the goal is to provide links between devices, including—but not limited to—the PC. Windows XP is "synergistic" with .NET, according to Allchin, but Windows XP isn't necessarily something that has to happen on the way to .NET.
".NET is about the move to Web services and software consuming those services," said Chris Jones, the vice president of the Windows Client Group. "Windows XP ties into Web services in a variety of ways. Foundation services are in Windows XP ... Web service 'drivers' are available, like Windows Update. Third-party services we hook into, some from Microsoft, some from elsewhere. Meta services and support services will be integrated with Windows XP."
Elaborating, Allchin said, "In our dream, everywhere there is a Web server today is a Web service tomorrow. We're so clear on it now inside the company, but we need to educate people better outside the company. We're talking about branding Passport and Windows Update as '.NET logoed brands.' The .NET branding will be there." Allchin said that the .NET branding strategy would evolve between now and the release of Windows XP.
Another Microsoft executive, Group Vice President of the .NET Services Group Bob Muglia, discussed .NET with Microsoft employees late last year. Muglia, according to Microsoft, is "responsible for developing the software strategies, the premium subscription services, and a new user interface (UI) that will help consumers, businesses, and software developers realize the full potential of the Internet." As such, he's the person most directly responsible for articulating the .NET vision. With his usual candor, Muglia discussed the ways in which Microsoft could make money on .NET:
"We need to shift to an annuity, maintenance-oriented business. We have the chance of getting ten bucks per user per month. That would be huge! Let's say 10 million users. That's a billion dollars. The numbers get big very quickly if you can actually begin to get people tied to these services and buying them because you're delivering value to them."
The biggest challenge, according to Muglia, is getting the developer community excited about .NET. Microsoft has honed its Visual Studio.NET vision over the past several months, and recently announced Visual Studio.NET Open Tools Platform, which will enable developers to integrate third-party tools and services into the wider Visual Studio.NET product. "The developer feedback on .NET has been extremely positive, so we think we are on the right track," Muglia said.
As with any major strategy change, communication is the key. Along the way, Microsoft has ushered in new paradigms including Windows, Windows NT, and the Internet. Now, the company is using the same strategy to promote .NET: Get developers excited and then get the users on board. With .NET, the company hasn't done a great job of explaining what it is and why we'll want it. But I think we'll see a change in Microsoft's public pronouncements about .NET very soon. If anything, what we've seen of its internal discussions only hints at the .NET information jihad to come.