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What is it?
Microsoft .net is a mixture of Microsoft's own technologies and industry standards such as XML, HTTP, Simple Object Access Protocol and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration), which together form an environment that can be used to develop and deploy web-based applications.
More specifically, .net will be used to create and support web services - modular applications which can be searched for and invoked across the web when they are needed.
Microsoft's products are being progressively rebranded with the .net suffix, but as changes to Visual Basic and Visual Studio have proved, this is far more than a rebranding exercise. With Visual Basic .net, for example, Microsoft announced that it had dropped the lifetime compatibility requirements, meaning that parts of Visual Basic 6.0 applications would have to be manually modified to upgrade to Visual Basic .net.
Where did it originate?
Microsoft began preparing the ground for .net in early 2000 with talk of an internet-based platform of next-generation Windows services (NGWS). Microsoft .net was announced in June 2000, and version 1.1 of the .net framework comes out with Visual Studio. net 2003.
What is it for?
Ultimately, creating XML-based web services, but for now it is used for Windows-based applications, with the full armoury of languages found in Visual Studio.
Standard services, such as the ADO.net and ASP.net class libraries, are available through the .net framework, which now includes support for mobile applications.
What makes it special?
Microsoft .net is language-neutral. It includes a common language runtime, which enables languages to interoperate and share objects. Developers should be able to program in any language, although currently it is confined to Microsoft-supported languages.
How difficult is it to master?
The goal is to make life easier for developers, but as the changes to Visual Basic indicate, even existing users of Microsoft's application development tools may face some challenges. The arrival of Visual Studio. net has been described as the biggest change to the Windows development environment since the launch of Visual Basic. For the time being, Visual Studio. net and Visual Studio 6.0 can be installed and used side by side.
What makes it hot?
According to the SSP/Computer Weekly survey, demand for people able to work with .net grew by 14% in 2002 as suppliers and users readied themselves to work with the new technology.
Not to be confused with ...
What systems does it run on?
Microsoft .net support is currently confined to the latest versions of Windows 2000 and XP. There is speculation that in future, Microsoft's operating systems may incorporate a BSD Unix kernel. There are also initiatives to implement .net on Linux.
Not many people know that ...
Cynics refer to it as "not yet".
What is coming up?
Until January this year, Windows Server 2003 would have been called Windows. net Server. Microsoft explained the .net suffix had been dropped "in an effort to clarify the naming and branding strategy for .net".
The point, perhaps, is that .net is not about operating systems, certainly not just about Windows, but works "regardless of the underlying platform". Then again, they may revive the name when the next major release of Windows 2000 is due.
Samples of Microsoft's .net courseware can be found at: microsoft.com/traincert/samples/developer.asp
Jobs and money
Employers currently pay a premium for those trained in ASP.net and Visual Basic. net, but it will not last as other developers upgrade their skills. One advertiser recently requested "one to two years' ASP.net experience".