At its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2000 show, Microsoft is rolling out the technology road map for Microsoft .NET, its initiative to change the company into a provider of Web-based services. The plans call for a variety of releases over the next few years, including a few that actually occurred this week: The company gave developers an early preview of Visual Studio.NET, the next version of its software development suite. But Microsoft's far reaching plans extend far beyond developer tools to server products such as SQL Server 2000 and Exchange Server 2000, future versions of Windows, such as "Whistler" and "Blackcomb," and a host of other products as disparate as Windows Media Player 7 (due next week) and MSN 6. All of these products--as well as many others--are but pieces in the overall plan for Microsoft .NET.

"Microsoft is ensuring that developers will be able to rapidly build solutions for the next wave of the digital economy," says Paul Flessner, the vice president of Microsoft .NET enterprise servers.

The first generation of Microsoft .NET servers will arrive later this summer with SQL Server 2000, Exchange Server 2000, BizTalk Server 2000, Commerce Server 2000, Application Center 2000, Host Integration Server 2000, and Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000. Each of these products leverages XML--the underlying communications fabric of Microsoft .NET--to exchange data with other applications. And the company has introduced a new XML-based language, XLANG (pronounced "slang"), which makes it easier to create business processes that span geographical boundaries. For developers, Microsoft has provided preview releases of Visual Studio.NET and the .NET Framework, so that programmers can begin working on Web services that will interact with these servers and future .NET products. Visual Studio.NET will ship in Q2/2000, according to Microsoft executive Paul Maritz.

One of the more exciting aspects of Microsoft .NET involves Web Forms, a feature that lets developer "skin," or create extensible user interfaces for their applications. The Web Forms technology can be explored now with Windows Media Player 7, which features an early version of the technology, giving users a way to build custom user interfaces as desired. The ability to skin user interfaces is a key aspect of the .NET "user experience" (UE), as first revealed in WinInfo. This feature will become a standard part of Windows with the first release of Windows.NET, code-named "Whistler." Windows.NET 1.0, which Microsoft says will ship in "the second half of 2001" (a six month delay from the previously announced April 2001 release date), will provide the first .Net client platform. Windows.NET 2.0 (code-named Blackcomb) is described as a major release and is due a year later