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Microsoft drew a rough outline of .Net for Exchange users at the keynote session led by Paul Flessner, senior vice president of the company's .Net Enterprise Server Division.
".Net. Is it a floor wax? Is it a dessert topping?" Flessner joked about the confusion over exactly what .Net is, "We want to put that to rest."
The move is intended, in part, to free developers from mundane architecture problems. "The way to innovate is to get them back on innovation and off plumbing," he said.
In general, systems "are not built to think outside their own boxes," Flessner said. "Microsoft is not afraid of open standards; customers don't have homogenous systems. They never will. Oracle is trying to play that. It is incredibly naive from my point of view."
.Net is generally viewed as Microsoft's vision of software services on the Internet.
Last year, Microsoft urged Exchange developers to build applications in Exchange and the SharePoint Portal to access data in a database. This year Exchange, is no longer the foundation for connecting business applications, but one element in the .Net strategy, the company said.
Kevin McCuistion, group product manager with .Net enterprise servers, acknowledged the change. Last year, he said, Microsoft was developing interoperable applications on two platforms, .Net and Exchange. To make Web applications work across platforms, developers should be focusing on the SOAP and XML protocols - the foundation for .Net - and not just interoperability among Microsoft products.
"We're not suggesting that you have to have an entirely Microsoft shop," McCuistion said. However, at some as yet undefined point in the future, all Microsoft applications will be built to be interoperable out of the box, which is the basic goal of .Net, he said.
The switch may leave users with more questions than answers, according to Dana Gardner, analyst at Aberdeen Group.
With so much about .Net still ill-defined, users may be understandably confused over which direction to take: Exchange or .Net, said Gardner.
He pointed out that Microsoft's rival IBM already has a defined path, he said.
Earlier this year, IBM subsidiary Lotus Software Group began using Aptrix technology from Presence Online to link its Notes and Domino databases to the Web, an acknowledged weak spot, said Tom Libretto, senior manager for content management at Lotus.
Microsoft also boasted about its growth in Exchange seats, which at 94 million, would put it ahead of Lotus, which had 85 million at the last count. However, those seat numbers include software for the e-mail client Outlook, which is shipped with Microsoft Office but may not be used or supported by an organisation.