In a briefing with Computer Weekly last week, Mark Greatorex, the recently appointed director of Microsoft's .net developer group, revealed that .net will "very, very soon" emerge from its beta phase making this year's conference a major platform for the company's e-commerce strategy.
Just as Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer undertook a whistlestop tour of Europe to add weight to the various Windows XP launch events, so Gates, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect, will be brought to the fore to push his pet .net project into the marketplace.
The unprecedented wheeling out of the company's top brass shows how important Microsoft considers this release to be - or how jittery it is about what failure would mean. Never before have US executives attended the European launches of recent Windows releases when market success was considered inevitable.
Accompanying Gates on his visit will be Don Box, co-author of the simple object access protocol (Soap) and co-founder of Developmentor, a component software think-tank aimed at educating developers in the use of Com, Java, and XML. Box will be a key weapon in Microsoft's growing campaign to champion C# programming over Java-based equivalents.
Although believed to be a result of the mutual loathing and distrust between Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, the reason given for Microsoft's non-support of the popular Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) programming environment is that it is not an open standard.
Greatorex said, "C# has been submitted to the independent standards body ECMA for adoption as an open standard but Java is still under the control of Sun."
To hear Microsoft calling a de facto standard "proprietary" shows how far it has had to come to embrace the e-commerce world and justify its dropping of Java. Not so long ago it was proud to refer to Windows as an open standard because of its wide adoption, even though it is under even tighter proprietary control than Java. By Microsoft's current definition, Linux, under the control of Linus Torvalds, and many other similarly stewarded open systems products could be defined as not truly open.
In using ECMA, Microsoft has also found a way to justify its Windows-centric strategy. Having submitted C# and, more recently, a subset of the .net framework, called the common language infrastructure (CLI), for acceptance, the company can absolve itself of many accusations of self-interest.
Standardisation means that any company that wants to implement either C# or CLI for other operating system platforms is free to do so. With the existence of Java, whether anyone will bother looks doubtful.
Gates, like Greatorex, is likely to make great play of performance and economy when comparing Java and C#. The Java "Pet Store" programming example has been redrafted in C# and the ASP.net Web services development platform. Greatorex said, "Not only was it produced with only a third of the number of lines of code that Java required, it can also perform up to 28 times faster."
These claims of speed and efficiency, with their resultant time and cost savings, may help Microsoft to break Java's grip. Mark Sear, chief software architect at Secfinex, a Web-based securities trading platform, is a convert from the J2EE, Oracle and Java world.
When Secfinex needed upgrading, he decided to switch from Java to C#/ASP.net. "Our developers were amazed at the results," he said.
"ASP.net required 50% less code, it ran 400%-500% faster than the Java code, and it was much more robust. The software cost about 25% of that of a J2EE implementation. In addition, Secfinex used only six people to develop the .net site versus 18 on the Java site."
The Microsoft .net Developer Conference 2001 will be held on 5-6 December at the Hilton London Metropole Hotel.