With the exception of key partners, no one outside of Microsoft had seen anything new on the .NET front for nine months. A lot of anxious developers were sick of hearing, "It'll be in beta 2," when they inquired about bug fixes and enhancements. Finally, last month at the TechEd conference, Microsoft distributed the second beta release of its .NET software to attendees and made it available to thousands of Microsoft Developers Network (MSDN) subscribers as a 1.3GB download, most of which is sample code and documentation.
The beta 2 refresh covers all its bases: the .NET Framework application programming interface; compilers for C++, C#, Visual Basic, and ECMAScript; MSDN Library online documentation; and the Visual Studio.NET integrated development environment. By default, the installer copies everything to your local hard drive except the documentation. But developers will want to copy that, too, because they won't get far in .NET without the docs. A local copy is much easier to access and navigate, so although it takes up about a gigabyte of disk space, it's worth it.
The previous beta ran only on Windows 2000, but beta 2 adds support for Windows 98, Me, XP, and Windows NT 4.0. Microsoft still recommends that development be done on Windows 2000 machines, and our early testing confirms that installation and development work more smoothly when run on that operating system. But having .NET run-time support for other Windows releases is a crucial step in the migration of existing software to .NET.
Beta 2 brings the .NET technology considerably closer to its finished state. And the initiative won't be a flash in the pan. Windows developers need it desperately, and others will want to prepare for the possibility that .NET will catch on in Unix as well.