I had a confusing meeting with Microsoft at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2006 last month. During a sit-down meeting with representatives from the company's developer division, I learned that WinFX, the managed code programming libraries that Microsoft will ship with Windows Vista, was simply the next generation of the Microsoft .NET Framework. Why then, I wondered, did it have a different name? Would Framework and WinFX merge in a future release?

This week, Microsoft decided to clarify the situation. It has dropped the WinFX name, and renamed the technologies .NET Framework 3.0. "The .NET Framework has always been at the core of WinFX, but the WinFX brand didn't convey this," Microsoft Corporate Vice-President S. "Soma" Somasegar wrote in a recent blog posting. "We have decided to rename WinFX to the .NET Framework 3.0. \[The name\] .NET Framework 3.0 aptly identifies the technology for exactly what it is--the next version of our developer framework. The change is in name only and will not affect the technologies being delivered as part of the product."

.NET has been at the center of a branding controversy since it was first introduced as Next Generation Windows Services in 2000. After renaming the technologies to .NET, Microsoft went a little overboard, trying to incorporate both the .NET technologies and the .NET brand into all of its products. Windows Server 2003, for example, was originally to have been called Windows .NET Server. And Windows XP might have been called Windows .NET. After a few years of this silliness, Microsoft finally backed down and began downplaying .NET. It looked as though the .NET brand would cease to exist with WinFX. Now, the reverse is true.

The Framework is the language-neutral developer framework that programmers can use to create Windows-based applications and services, typically with Visual Studio or a similar development environment. Modern programming languages such as C#, Visual Basic, and Visual C++ can all target the Framework's logical, object-oriented class libraries to produce executable code that runs on top of the .NET Framework execution engine. Previous versions of this technology are available for various Windows versions, but it was first included with Windows 2003. Vista will be the first client version of Windows to include the Framework as a core component. As with previous versions, .NET Framework 3.0 will also be made available for XP and Windows 2003.