Last week, Microsoft shut the door on the past with a one-two punch that sets the stage for the .NET future. The first part of the announcement concerned the long-awaited feature-complete beta 2 release of Visual Studio.NET, which at last lets developers create Web services and other applications based on .NET and its Microsoft .NET Framework. But an equally interesting tidbit concerns the next version of Windows 2000 Server (Whistler): Microsoft has changed Whistler Server's name from Windows Server 2002, as it was titled in April, to Windows.NET Server, a name that underscores the product's relationship with the .NET platform.

Visual Studio.NET Beta 2
Visual Studio.NET beta 2 is a development environment that includes new versions of Visual Basic (VB) and Visual C++ (VC++) along with a new C-like language called C#. Microsoft has designed Visual Studio.NET from the ground up to support the creation of a variety of application types, including

  • XML Web Services that communicate over the Internet using standard Web technology
  • Windows applications that use a new technology called Windows Forms to take advantage of rich UI features and services from the .NET Framework.
  • Web applications that use a new technology called Web Forms, the Web-based version of Windows Forms. Web Forms brings rapid application development (RAD) to the Web for the first time.
  • Data-backed applications that use ADO.NET, a technology that uses object-orient (OO) constructs to link any Web application, desktop application, or XML Web service to a database.

If you're not a developer, these application types might not sound compelling, but remember Visual Studio.NET is how most of the cool services and applications you hope to use—excuse me, "consume" in .NET parlance—will come to fruition. Visual Studio (VS) has always been a complex product, and the .NET version is even more so. Nevertheless, Microsoft has managed to pull off a solid, capable beta release that the company says you can use in certain situations to deploy production code. And Microsoft says that beta 2 is the last beta: The final release of Visual Studio.NET will ship by the end of the year.

Windows.NET Server
Web Services are fun, but they won't work without a server architecture to back them up. As recently as April, Microsoft wasn't sure whether its .NET Framework would be done in time for inclusion with Whistler Server, which was then expected to ship by the end of the year. But a change of heart has delayed the server product—now known as Windows.NET Server—until early 2002, giving Microsoft time to incorporate key .NET technology. The significant feature that differentiates Windows.NET Server from its predecessor, Windows 2000 Server, is that Windows.NET Server integrates the .NET server platform necessary to deploy XML Web services. By including this technology in Windows.NET Server, Microsoft has finally shown that its support for .NET isn't half-baked. .NET will be a part of all Windows releases going forward.

This point is crucial: In the past, Windows was the platform, so developers wrote applications and services for that platform, and users used Windows clients to take advantage of those products. In the near future, .NET will be the platform. At first, the .NET platform will run only on Windows, but that will change over time. More important, the client platform is now wide open: With .NET, users can take advantage of services from PCs, sure—but they can also use Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), smart cell phones, Tablet PCs, TVs, and devices that we have yet to imagine. With .NET, your Windows investment pays off because you can move to the next generation easily enough. But Microsoft is moving us toward a .NET—not a Windows—future. The company made the first concrete step toward that future this week. Exciting, isn't it?