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The Economist: Winternet

Jul 05, 2000, 23:13 (2 Talkback[s])

"The .NET initiative is basically an attempt to create an alternative platform for online applications, controlled by Microsoft--a sort of Windows for the Internet. In contrast to the operating system, however, the parts of this platform will not reside on a user's hard disk, but be spread all over the Internet. There will be .NET software on servers, on database computers, on PCs and on appliances--all closely integrated."

"To establish .NET, the firm is apparently counting on the same tactics that it used with Windows. Last week?s launch was classic Microsoft: most of the applications presented were "vapourware"--software that does not yet exist, but is announced to deter customers from looking elsewhere. To get their ideas across, Microsoft executives showed several "vision videos", for example about a family planning its next holiday trip entirely online with minimal hassle. Most of the things shown will not be available until after 2002."

"At the .NET launch in Redmond, the firm?s executives went to great lengths to insist that the platform will be based on open standards, mainly XML and SOAP--implying that they do not intend to use Windows to gain an unfair advantage. But other statements raise suspicions that Microsoft will try to tie the old and new platforms together. The experience for users of Windows is supposed to be "richer" than that for people with rival operating systems. The protocols for the "building blocks" will be proprietary--as are the application program interfaces in Windows, the software hooks that other programs connect to. In other words: if developers do not write to the .NET platform, their users will be second-class citizens."

"The issue at hand is how the coming web-services industry, a central part of the new economy, will be organised: whether it will be dominated by one firm, as the PC software industry has been, or be based on open standards. Microsoft has delivered an elegant though scarcely original vision of the future. But its version is not the one most likely to foster competition and innovation."

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