As soon as Microsoft announced its latest "Bill Bets the Company" initiative, .NET, I got a paranoid chill down my back that I always get when Microsoft announces a new paradigm. (As a wise man once observed, "You know what they say about paradigms: shift happens.") I thought, "Good grief, I'm still trying to figure out the new doodads in Windows 2000—now I have to learn even more new stuff?" After watching the .NET stuff for the past few months, however, I've got great news: If your main worry is keeping your network up and running, you can safely ignore .NET. Go back to that pre-Active Directory (AD) DNS infrastructure design project you've been losing sleep over and get it done. You aren't missing anything .NET-wise.

That doesn't mean that you're not going to hear .NET until you're heartily tired of it. For one thing, you'll hear .NET applied to existing products, as Microsoft applied it recently—gluing .NET onto what used to be simply BackOffice components. A marketing document that Microsoft recently sent to its Solution Providers seemed to say that SQL Server, Exchange Server, Proxy Server—oops, I mean Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000—and just about everything else Microsoft sells that runs atop Win2K is now a Microsoft .NET Enterprise Server. So if your job requires you to keep the Microsoft database and mail servers running, yes, in a sense you must pay attention to .NET. But in this context, .NET is just an amorphous marketing label like "enterprise," a term that can spice up any name or title. (And heck, .NET is kind of catchy; I'm thinking of changing my title from Chief Scientist to Chief Scientist.NET.) Apparently the next version of Windows NT, code-named Whistler, which might once have been called "Windows 2002," will now be called Windows.NET. But remember, this is cosmetics.NET, not new software technology.NET.

However, some parts of .NET will affect you, although more as a user than as an administrator. Part of .NET involves UI enhancements that make collecting a lot of data from a lot of places simpler. Some of those UI enhancements should take us a few steps closer to being able to talk to our computers. (But please don't write to tell me about some voice-input technology that is supposedly already viable. As a carpal tunnel sufferer, I've tried them all, and they're not quite there yet—at least, not to my taste. But they keep getting better, and having Microsoft throw some time and money at speech recognition can't be a bad thing.)

At the recent Windows 2000 & Exchange Connections conference, my friend Alison Balter (alison@pcvideos.com), one of the world's giant brains on the subject of Visual Basic (VB), explained that administrators will like some things about .NET. For one thing, .NET programs will avoid "DLL hell" by existing as one self-contained lump of code. You drop a program onto a computer and it's installed, no fancy installation programs needed. To uninstall, just do a "lumpectomy" and the program's gone, leaving no trace. And apparently my creaky home-built VBScript Active Server Pages (ASP) will get a whole lot faster because .NET will include the coming-soon ASP+ technology. ASP+ is worth looking forward to, even for VBScript programming dilettantes, because it compiles the code for faster execution.

Whisking away the smoke and mirrors, here's what .NET means. Periodically, Microsoft comes out with some new set of tools to make programmers' lives easier—anyone remember OLE, DDE, COM, COM+, and DCOM? We administrators aren't directly affected, but we are indirectly affected: Give the programmers better tools, and they're more likely to turn out better programs for us. As a result of .NET, look for administrative programs that are more scriptable—and, probably, administrative programs we can talk to.

Now, that's something I'm really looking forward to. I've been saying things to my computer for years—and in a particular tone of voice, if you know what I mean. Just think—someday soon, it might understand what I'm suggesting.

Even if it lacks the anatomy to comply . . .