LEARN MORE

Zones



Microsoft Tightens the Web with its .NET Initiative

Last summer, Microsoft announced Microsoft .NET. Marketing hyperbole aside, this initiative is planned to dramatically change the way your computer and computer applications operate. It also could have a profound effect on your business.

In the interest of full disclosure, the following: I am writing this in late December. The super-fast computer I bought last June, which crashed in September, sits silently next to me. For some reason, the Windows NT 4 operating system won’t install from CD, and when it does, it won’t let me create a repair disk. (This would be very troubling if I used virus-prone Microsoft Outlook for e-mail. By the way, the latest viruses will automatically infect executables; other recent viruses automatically proliferate from Outlook without the user ever having to open infected email.)

I’ve decided to start fresh by installing Windows 2000 (Win2K) Professional. The computer went into an auto-reboot cycle and the Win2K-compatible sound card is not being recognized. Or maybe it’s the video card that’s not being recognized.

None of this is easy. Which makes me wonder...

Once upon a time, a business enterprise’s success was based on the capabilities within its four walls. Then came the Internet. Now enterprises succeed by pooling their capabilities and collaborating with other enterprises across the Internet.

The same thing will happen with your computer, says Microsoft Corporation. Till now, computer applications were based on functionality within the computer, using system services and program objects found “locally.”

The next phase of computing will use the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) as the glue between software components, applications, and hardware devices scattered throughout the ‘net. XML and Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) will link together a variety of “Web services”—basically Internet- and XML-based functionality. The result will be new applications available to anyone, anytime, anywhere, and on any device over the Internet.

That is, according to the Microsoft .NET initiative.

.NET (pronounced “dot net”) is Microsoft’s all-encompassing Web-centric strategy to fully integrate computing and data communications together. .NET shifts the focus of computing away from individual Web sites and devices on the Internet and toward any group of computers, devices, and services working together, seamlessly.

 

Microsoft .NET, the "Web Solution Platform," infuses Web-based data communications capabilities into Microsoft's existing DNA products. As a result, .NET products wil run on n-number of compute devices at any tier level anywhere and at any time on the Internet. As shown here, some of the .NET products had the Windows 2000 moniker when .NET was first announced. That will certainly change as Microsoft solidifies its .NET technologies, as well as its associated marketing programs. (Source: Microsoft Corp.)

.NET makes the Internet itself the basis of a new operating system for computing devices. It tightly integrates applications together so one can automatically use the information contained in another. It assumes that all applications are distributed applications requiring a network of some sort. And it uses software components to monitor the actions of individuals and business enterprises so that user intent and E-commerce can be divined and acted upon.

Whats in a .NET?
.NET involves a plethora of technologies from Microsoft, including:

  • A set of distributed megaservices that act as building blocks for the Internet operating system. These services include user authentication, XML-based file storage, user personalization, calendar management, directory and search capabilities, and various forms of messaging (such as instant messag- ing, e-mail, fax, and voice).
  • .NET Enterprise Servers and other infrastructure elements to operate new services. For example, BusinessTalk Server 2000, unites enter- prise application integration, business-to-business E-commerce, and a set of Microsoft-initiated guidelines regarding XML (called BusinessTalk) for building dynamic business processes that span multiple applica- tions and organizations.
  • Windows.NET, the next-generation Windows desktop operating system. Actually, next two generations. “Whistler,” slated for the second half of 2001, is the joint successor to Windows 2000 and Windows ME and will be the first version of the operating system to feature some .NET technologies. “Blackcomb,” slated to ship in 2002, will fully integrate .NET technologies. (By the way: Whistler and Blackcomb are twin peaks 70 miles north of Vancouver, BC. Great skiing there.)
  • .NET-compatible tools and applications. Visual Studio.NET (formerly Visual Studio 7) is basically Visual Basic applied to Internet computing; it uses drag-and-drop operations to develop .NET/Web applications and services and to automatically generate XML code. MSN.NET and Office.NET (formerly Office 10), et al, are extremely Web-centric updates of applications you’ve used to run within your desktop computer. (These applica- tions will have other new features. SmartTags within Office.NET will automatically recognize typed words and phrases. In operation, when you type in a Microsoft Word document the name of a person in your Microsoft Outlook address book, Word will automatically make that name a clickable link so you can email a message to that person. Type a recognized name of a company, and Word will make that a link so you can connect to that company’s Web site.)

 

So Long, Cellophane
One other aspect of .NET: shrink-wrapped software (diskettes; CDs) will give way to a new approach. As with pay-per-view television, Microsoft expects users to sign up for subscription-based services and applications on the Web. While some liken this to building Microsoft tollbooths on the Internet, Microsoft says it’s just changing with the times. Specifically, Microsoft says it and other software service providers will be able to deliver software as a service that would “also allow Microsoft and independent developers to respond more swiftly with backups and anti-virus protection.” Of course, this would presume that everyone has a fast Internet connection...

There is more, of course. For instance, .NET Framework is a middleware layer that lets applications and services written in different programming languages run on a single operating environment, called Common Language Runtime (CLR). This is made possible by CLR’s support of Microsoft’s XML-based Simple Object Access Language (SOAP) specification. SOAP lets programs call each other over the Internet using standard protocols like HTTP. Sun and IBM are supporting SOAP, so ideally there’ll be a certain level of interoperability between future .NET and third-party products.

If some of this sounds like Java, Enterprise JavaBeans, and Java Runtime, you’re right. Remember: .NET is a Microsoft-dominated view of computing. Java (with XML) are both Sun’s and Oracle’s way of creating a cross-platform computing environment for interoperability. In fact, General Electric Co. announced in November 2000 that a Java-based Web platform was just fine right now while it waited for the full .NET effect, which even Microsoft admits will take a few years.

Likewise, some of Microsoft’s .NET server pitch should also sound familiar. Microsoft’s BusinessTalk Server competes directly with WebMethods’ B2B Server, for example. Likewise, IBM’s WebSphere application server can be used to build and deliver distributed Web-based applications to numerous compute devices.

What this means for manufacturing
Within the Microsoft .NET initiative is Microsoft .NET for Manufacturing. Basically, this is a rehash of Microsoft’s Windows DNA (Distributed interNet Applications). As with DNA, .NET sets out to weave a set of low-level protocols, standards, and tools that will let applications and computer hardware interoperate. And like DNA, .NET is aimed at encouraging key corporate customers, software vendors, hardware suppliers, and trade associations to standardize on Microsoft products and components. In return, .NET is expected to replace the tedious programming required to integrate Websites and applications together with Web-based drag-and-drop plug-and-play for everything Web-oriented.

But .NET for Manufacturing is also a logical extension of DNA in that the former is focused on Web-based operations and includes support for wireless devices, such as pagers, cell phones, and personal digital assistants. In so doing, .NET intends to integrate plant operations beyond the enterprise, closing the loop up and down the supply chain.