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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 15:18 GMT
Microsoft tools up for .Net expansion
Bill Gates, AP
Bill Gates first introduced the .Net initiative in 2000
Microsoft is unveiling a key part of its strategy to extend its hold in the technology world.

In San Francisco Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is formally unleashing Visual Studio .Net - software that gives programmers everything they need to create the programs Microsoft is betting its future on.

Software created with the toolkit will be internet-aware from the moment of its creation, and will, Microsoft hopes, readily swap and gather information across all kinds of data networks.

The company wants to convert the huge pool of programmers who already use its software tools into users of Visual Studio .Net to drive acceptance of its version of the way the web should work.

Work the web

In June 2000, Microsoft unveiled its .Net initiative to put web services at the heart of everything it does. But only now are key programs for the initiative appearing.

One of the most important is Visual Studio .Net. It gives program writers the building blocks they need to create .Net software.

The initiative is hugely important to Microsoft, which, though it dominates the market for operating systems and office software on desktop machines, faces much stiffer competition in the market for web-based software which businesses increasingly rely upon.

Marks & Spencer, PA
Marks & Spencer is already using Microsoft's .Net software
Programs written to .Net specifications will readily grab information from internet-based sources or databases and present it to users or to other applications.

Many experts believe that only when these web services are widely used will the real potential of e-business be realised.

Businesses are likely to be the biggest users of web services. They will be tied together into live networks constantly trading information.

For instance, a .Net program that passes information about manufacturing problems or shortages at any point in a supply chain could instantly trigger automatic changes in the ordering or payment systems of all the companies in the chain.

One of the first companies to sign up to .Net is Marks & Spencer which has written a fraud detection program it hopes will help spot cloned or stolen credit cards.

Security hurdles

The Visual Studio software draws heavily on one of Microsoft's other popular programming tools, Visual Basic.

This already has more than six million users and, by tapping into this community, Microsoft hopes to build a large pool of .Net developers quickly.

It is also working to make it easy to translate software code written into other programming languages into the .Net format.

One of the main rivals to .Net is Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), backed by Sun Microsystems and based on the Java programming language.

While .Net applications will have an undoubted Microsoft flavour, they should produce data using the Extensible Markup Language (XML) format, potentially making it simple to interact with software written with rival programming tools.

Microsoft has significant hurdles to overcome. The security, reliability and trustworthiness of programs that tie together lots of different businesses and their customers will be paramount.

See also:

09 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Rivals queue up to take on Microsoft
25 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Microsoft looks beyond the desktop
22 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Windows embraces the web
13 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Gates hands down his tablet
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