1. Computing
Introduction to Microsoft .NET
A collection of technologies poised to revolutionize computer networking
An Article by your Guide Bradley Mitchell

Over the past several years, Microsoft has invested much time and money in an initiative called ".NET" (hereafter, dot-NET). Though it evolved differently, Sun Microsystems has created a similiar technology base through their "J2EE" initative. Both efforts relate to a new area of computer networking known as Web services.
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"If there is one thing that Microsoft is, it is user friendly, to the point of dumbing down a lot of security issues.

"I am a firm believer in the best tools for the job, and I can not see Microsoft IIS as a useable and worthwhile Web product. Certainly for a behind-the-firewall Web server with no public access it's a nifty product, but for day-in and day-out need-a-really-secure rock-solid Web server, it's not there."
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The future of Web services, dot-NET and J2EE is unclear, but the subject has already generated intense debate and controversy. Issues range from privacy concerns to debates on standards for conducting international business over the Internet. Business considerations aside, Microsoft dot-NET contains some cool networking technology that is worthy of a closer look.

Dot-Net Defined

Dot-NET consists of a number of technologies that allow software developers to build Internet-based distributed systems. Individual pieces of these systems, called software components, can be built using several different programming languages and by several different organizations. Through a common set of core functionality, Dot-NET allows these components to work reliably with each other.

Microsoft's core implementation of Dot-NET includes:

  • C# (a new programming language)
  • the Common Language Runtime (for support of other programming languages)
  • a collection of components that provide support for networking, security, and other "base" services commonly needed in distributed applications
  • Windows Forms (WinForms) and Web Forms, rich Windows user interface components
  • ASP.NET, a new version of Active Server Pages
  • ADO.NET, new data access objects in the tradition of the original Active Data Objects

A new version of Microsoft's system development environment, Visual Studio .NET, is the primary tool used to build dot-NET software.

Dot-NET in Practice

Underlying all of dot-NET are two key technologies, HTTP and XML. Dot-NET builds higher-level tools on top of this foundation to make development of distributed systems for the Internet easier.

Microsoft envisions dot-NET will be used extensively in the area of ecommerce. Businesses can implement the content of their online services in XML and deliver these services to customers and business partners through XML-based messaging standards like the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP).

Dot-NET and Ecommerce

Today, many businesses implement ecommerce solutions such as selling books, music, and computer hardware. Dot-NET doesn't necessarily change the nature of these existing businesses. However, dot-NET can make it is easier to start new small businesses and allow customers to more easily find these businesses online. Microsoft is an active participant in efforts to develop the Universal Discovery, Description, and Integration (UDDI) system, that could turn out to be a worldwide registry service for dot-NET applications.

In addition to a standard discovery mechanism for services, dot-NET also may further the development of automatic usage tracking and micropayment systems. A key element of the dot-NET initiative is the establishment of a computational "nervous system" through which all network traffic passes in a managed way. Microsoft hopes to achieve this through the development of standard Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and also through their ownership of managed Web server farms.

Dot-NET and P2P

Using its services "toolkit" that includes built-in networking, security, and scalability support, innovative Internet applications can be developed more rapidly than has been the case with peer-to-peer (P2P) systems in the past. The ability to authenticate and track users should help alleviate concerns over theft of intellectual property that has plagued P2P systems in the past.

Dot-NET and DCOM

Those familiar with Microsoft's Common Object Model (COM) technology may wonder whether dot-NET is simply a new version of distributed COM (DCOM). This is not the case. While dot-NET software can utilize COM components, and COM components can tie into many features of the Dot-NET environment, the two technologies are internally separate. In particular, Dot-NET has been designed to work across the Internet, with firewalls and wide-area networks, whereas DCOM was designed primarily for use on local-area networks.

Dot-NET and J2EE

The Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) system created by Sun Microsystems shares many features in common with dot-NET. Instead of WinForms for rich user interface development, Java offers its Swing component library. Java Server Pages and Java servlets offer an alternative to ASP and WebForms. Standard "base" services in J2EE are provided through Enterprise Java Beans (EJBs).

J2EE has existed for several years before dot-NET came along, and thus it has a substantial development community already in place. However, Microsoft too boasts a very large community of developers familiar with some of the technologies behind dot-NET including ASP and Visual Studio. Microsoft also hopes to attract new audiences through the dot-NET support for alternative languages like Perl and Python.

Conclusion

Dot-NET is a new and complex set of technologies for network software development. It will take several more years for the full potential of dot-NET to be realized.

Some critics of Microsoft and Web services have characterized dot-NET as a solution looking for a problem. Others have questioned Microsoft's ability to build Internet software that is reliable and secure. It seems premature to judge dot-NET on both counts, but the year 2002 should see some interesting new developments in the Web services space.


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