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May 16, 2002—In this issue:
- .NET Still Faces a Dicey Future
2. .NET NEWS AND VIEWS
- Win.NET Server Heads into Final Development Lap
3. DOT-TECH PERSPECTIVES
- The Big Picture: How Applications Discover Web Services
- Cast Your Vote for Our Readers' Choice Awards!
- Get Valuable Info for Free with IT Consultant Newsletter
- Event Highlight: VSLive! 2002 New York
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Enforce Enhanced Password Security
7. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, news editor, firstname.lastname@example.org)
When Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said that the company was betting its future on .NET, he wasn't exaggerating. After a decade of market dominance thanks to Windows and Microsoft Office, Microsoft faces new challenges as the market shifts from desktop-based applications to an interconnected future of Web services. But this shift hasn't gone smoothly for the company. In fact, with relatively few small exceptions, most of Microsoft's .NET effort to date has been a failure.
.NET Passport, of course, is one example. Although hundreds of millions of customers have signed up for the service, the vast majority have done so only because they had no choice if they wanted to take advantage of popular online services such as Hotmail or MSN Gaming Zone. And Microsoft recently had to drop .NET My Services (formerly code-named HailStorm) and rethink its strategy for the technology because none of its business partners showed the slightest bit of interest in it.
Another recent, but quieter, technology abandonment occurred late last year, when Microsoft decided to cancel NetDocs, an online office suite service that would have been available over the Internet and required subscription fees. According to Microsoft insiders, NetDocs was originally envisioned as the .NET "poster child," offering customers online versions of Office's email, personal information management (PIM), and document-authoring features, as well as digital-media management and Instant Messaging (IM). What was radical about NetDocs was that the product wouldn't have shipped in a shrink-wrapped box but would have been available as a hosted Web service.
In an internal document specifying the company's future goals, Microsoft described NetDocs this way: "Use the .NET platform to create a revenue generating subscription service focused on enhanced communications and creativity (NetDocs)." Last week, in court for cross-examination during Microsoft's antitrust remedy hearings, Microsoft Group Vice President Jim Allchin, who heads the company's important Platforms Group, explained why NetDocs was dropped, or "blown up," in his words: "We didn't think that \[NetDocs\] was going to be a viable technology. We decided that technology had a number of issues, and that group was disbanded. Are we \[still\] trying to build some subscription offerings within Microsoft? The answer is yes, we absolutely are trying to do that."
The failure of NetDocs comes at a tough time for Microsoft: The company's latest traditional Office suite—Office XP—is widely considered a lackluster release with few innovative features. But if Office could become a subscription service, a subpar release wouldn't hurt the bottom line as much because Microsoft's customers would continue paying monthly or yearly subscription fees for the product. With the company's traditional sales model, however, new versions often make or break sales: If customers resist a new version, sales can plummet, taking revenues and profits down with them.
I think it's safe to guess that some parts of NetDocs will see the light of day in the next Office version—reportedly code-named Office NGO, for Next-Generation Office—and in other Microsoft products. NetDocs was to have included a component called Universal Canvas, an XML-based display technology. And the NetDocs online document-sharing and collaboration technologies will no doubt be rolled into future versions of SharePoint Team Services, which is part of Office.
But here's the problem. While Microsoft tries to figure out how to get its customers—both end users and corporate decision makers—to go along with online subscription services, weak interim software releases such as Office XP leave the company vulnerable to attack. Consider the recent rash of Office suite competition, a market that Microsoft temporarily sewed up years ago when Corel WordPerfect Office and Lotus SmartSuite fell by the wayside. Today, competitors see the value in supporting non-Windows platforms. Currently, you can choose the excellent—and free—OpenOffice.org office suite, which offers full Office document compatibility, or the product's commercial cousin, Sun Microsystems' StarOffice 6.0, which is expected to cost between $50 and $100 when it goes on sale this month. Both of these suites run on Linux, Mac OS, and other systems in addition to Windows. Compare those prices with the heady $200 to $500 cost of Office, and you can see why Microsoft's current business model is in trouble.
Will .NET ever find its killer app, that one application or service that makes the technology truly must-have? Microsoft's recent flailing and constant strategy changes make the answer to that question more unclear now than ever before.
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2. .NET NEWS AND VIEWS
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, email@example.com)
At the Networld+Interop 2002 Las Vegas conference last week in Las Vegas, Nevada, Microsoft executives gathered to discuss the final development stage for the company's upcoming Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server) family of products. The family will include .NET Web Server (Win.NET Web Server),.NET Standard Server (Win.NET Standard Server—formerly Windows 2000 Server),.NET Enterprise Server (Win.NET Enterprise Server—formerly Win2K Advanced Server), and .NET Datacenter Server (Win.NET Datacenter Server—formerly Win2K Datacentr Server) editions when Microsoft releases it to manufacturing late this year.
Win.NET Server will provide easy ways for customers to use Web services, media services, and other built-in capabilities to build richer client applications for a variety of uses, including Help desk and call-center applications. Customers can use Visual Studio .NET (released earlier this year) to create the rich client applications that they'll deploy on Win.NET Server.
3. DOT-TECH PERSPECTIVES
(contributed by Christa Anderson, firstname.lastname@example.org)
My previous columns in .NET UPDATE have examined individual basic Web services and Global XML Web Services, explaining how each is intended to make Web services work in a timely and secure way. Now that you're familiar with the individual standards, I'd like to start connecting the dots. This time, let's take a look at how these proposed standards are intended to cooperate to help applications find and deploy Web services.
.NET applications depend not just on their own capabilities—the capabilities that their developers build in—but also on the capabilities of services hosted on other computers (known as "hosts") that the computer running the .NET application has access to. This situation is not unlike how computers running Microsoft Office can either use the clip art that the Office software supplies or access a Microsoft Web site to download additional clip art. In a similar way, .NET applications are designed to be able to communicate with external services and download a service's components locally so that the service is available immediately and in the future.
To deploy a Web service from an IIS-based service host, you create a virtual root on the host, into which you copy the service's configuration files and set up a web.config file for the service (to include security settings that override any default configuration settings for the Microsoft IIS server). You place other required files for the service into a \bin subdirectory on the virtual root.
How does the .NET application find and connect to the virtual root? Web Services Description Language (WSDL), which I discussed in the February 7, 2002 .NET UPDATE, is a suggested standard for how Web services should be described on the service host so that an application can interact with them in a predictable way. But the first problem for the .NET application isn't reading the Web service description—it's finding the description. .NET application developers need to build this finding logic into applications so that the user running the application doesn't have to know where to look. The application must be able to find the necessary Web services, read their description, then download any required components to the local computer for execution. (What about application setup? One idea behind .NET applications is that copying the application files to the local directory is setup. Part of .NET's conceptual framework is that applications can be installed not through an installation routine but simply by copying files to an application folder-—similar to the old method of installing DOS files.)
The current way to point applications to a Web service's location is with Microsoft's DISCO technology, in which an XML-based file with a .disco extension is stored on the virtual root. The .disco files link to the actual Web service description (e.g., the WSDL document) and also link to one another and can span all the services on a particular host or collection of hosts. In other words, although a .NET application can connect directly to a service's .disco file, it can also connect to a list of available services that redirects the application to the appropriate service document. Another way to help applications find Web services is to use .vdisco files in place of .disco files, and tell the discovery request handler to look up all the support files with Web services suffixes in each virtual root, then dynamically create a .disco file to link to the Web service description. The two options produce the same effect, but discovering services each time an application needs them keeps the list of available services up to date.
The catch to DISCO is that it works for a specific server or known group of servers because you need a starting point for the application to point to. As you know if you've been reading along with these columns, Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI) is another proposed method of service discovery. UDDI is an XML service that organizes other XML services by business type, service, or technical description and that can perform lookups of each type. Service hosts publish their service lookup information in a UDDI directory, which is like a telephone book. To find a Web service published with UDDI, a .NET application need only send a Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) message to a UDDI operating site. The catch to UDDI is that application developers either need to trust that all published services on a given site are safe to use (or maintain their own protected sites), or need to find a way to restrict the content of public UDDI sites.
As you've no doubt noticed, both DISCO and UDDI have their limitations, but I'll bet that the future lies with integrating Web services into applications. We're either going to live with these limitations, find solutions to them, or work around them.
For more information about the Web services I've examined in previous .NET UPDATES, check out the following Dot-Tech Perspectives columns: "SOAP: A Basic Component of XML Web Services," January 24, 2002; "WSDL: Defining and Directing Data for XML Applications," February 7, 2002; and "UDDI: The Directory Mechanism for XML Web Services," February 21, 2002.
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June 16 through 19, 2002
At VSLive! 2002 San Francisco in February, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates announced Visual Studio .NET and redefined Visual Studio (VS) development. Everything you've learned about COM, Active Server Pages (ASP), Visual Basic (VB), and C++ will change. The potential is exciting, but the challenge is substantial. VSLive! 2002 New York will bring you up to date on the latest .NET approaches and tools and help you learn how to use them. The conference will cover not only the development tools but also how these tools integrate with platforms such as Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server), Yukon, and Microsoft SQL Server 2000.
For other upcoming events, check out the Windows & .NET Magazine Event Calendar.
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
(contributed by Carolyn Mascarenas, email@example.com)
Avatier announced Password Bouncer Deluxe, an enhanced password-enforcer product that supports .NET, Windows 2000, and Windows NT environments. The software screens passwords at the time users create them to prevent users from choosing passwords that are weak and easy to compromise. In combination with Password Bouncer Deluxe, Password Station.NET lets users change their passwords without help from IT. Password Bouncer Deluxe costs $1995 per domain per year on a subscription basis or $9995 per domain for a perpetual license. Contact Avatier at 800-609-8610.
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