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Does .NET Equal Web Services or Not?

One of the key elements for Microsoft Corp. with the .NET platform is not the individual technologies that it is building for the platform, but the whole idea of a new paradigm for development that is encapsulated in the term "Web services."

Microsoft is pushing the new model in which a developer would create a pointer in a new application to an existing service, written by someone else, on the Web and run that service live on its Internet host to perform some function the developer wants to use in his new application.

Divisions in the industry over whether this will happen emerged during a roundtable discussion at Microsoft TechEd 2001 sponsored by ComponentSource. Analyst Mark Driver of Gartner says such code sharing among enterprise developers will occur and must occur.

"The whole point about Web services is the standardization and the commoditization of the technology that we use to communicate from enterprise to enterprise can fundamentally lower barriers to entry and create a newer network model," Driver said.

Panelist Roger Sessions, CEO of ObjectWatch, strongly disagreed. "The idea that Web services and the .NET platform are this very, very tight coupling is an unfortunate artifact of the way Microsoft has been overly focused themselves on Web services," Sessions said.

Most companies have much more serious problems interoperating with their own technologies inside the firewall than they do interoperating with other companies' technologies, Sessions believes. Microsoft's .NET presents a feasible means for addressing those problems, he adds.

"I would be very, very surprised if in five years anything other than a small percentage of the usage of Web services is going outside the firewall," Sessions said.

In any event, developers seem to be preparing to move rapidly toward writing .NET code.

Gartner's research indicates the .NET code will supplant COM code quickly. Gartner expects the ratio of COM-to-.NET code will be about 70 percent COM and 30 percent .NET in the next year or so. That 30 percent will be "primarily focused around the ASP layer which is really an exciting element of .NET," Driver said.

A year or two later, Gartner projects the code ratio will flip to 30 percent COM and 70 percent .NET. Around 2005, 95 percent of new code will be newer .NET code, according to Gartner's models.

Supporting Gartner's rapid conversion projections, Component Source, which calls itself a Software Reuse Infrastructure Provider, recently surveyed the 510 component authors who make up its developer community. Of 250 respondents, 60 percent said they planned to launch .NET versions of their components. Of those, 30 percent planned to launch final versions of their components at the launch of Visual Studio .NET in Q4 2001. An additional 44 percent planned to launch within three months of the Visual Studio .NET launch.

"That took a lot of the hype out of it for us when our actual customers, our authors, were saying, 'We're actually going to build these things and release them,'" said Sam Patterson, CEO of Component Source.

Microsoft is beating the Web services drum loudest, but it's certainly not alone in calling for the model. IBM, Sun, Oracle, BEA, Iona and HP all have their own Web services platforms in the oven, most of them using Java in some form or another.

Patterson noted that many of the other vendors trail Microsoft in mindshare.

During the TechEd roundtable, he cited a session during a recent Sun show with about 200 attendees. "I asked how many people here know what Sun ONE is. And only six people raised their hands. I asked how many people knew what .NET was, and nearly the whole room raised their hand," Patterson said.

Gartner's Driver said Microsoft also has an advantage when it comes to delivering tools that make it easy to create Web services.

"Every one of the Java vendors, including IBM, which is still a light year ahead of the rest of them, is probably nine to 12 months behind Microsoft, easily, today in terms of technology to dumb down the building of Web services," Driver said.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.