Microsoft Corp.'s vision of distributed computing, a wide-reaching computing effort called .Net that will allow users to access data on a variety of Internet-connected devices, is nothing without the tools to build it.
At its annual developers' conference here Tuesday, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates hammered away at its plan to make easy and familiar tools for building and deploying Web services based on its grand scheme. He also detailed the newest set of development tools that Microsoft delivered to developers here.
Release Candidate 1 of the Visual Studio.Net software development suite, unveiled Tuesday, is the flagship of this set of tools. One key feature of the tool kit, which is available with Windows XP Professional, is its ability to automatically build a front-end interface for a Web service so it can be consumed on a computing device.
That software gets most of its new functionality due to its deep integration with XML (Extensible Markup Language), the industry standard that has become the foundation of Microsoft's .Net strategy.
"We consider it the groundbreaking work for the XML wave," Gates said.
Microsoft started work on Visual Studio.Net three years ago, Gates said. In the past year, the company has publicly tested two beta versions of the developers' software suite with 2.5 million testers. With Release Candidate 1 now finished, it will gather comments and release a final version of the software before the end of the year, Gates said.
Additionally, Gates unveiled the Release Candidate 1 of the .Net Framework, the architectural blueprints of its Internet computing platform, and early code of ASP.Net, the environment for building Web services for active server pages.
Other releases here include technology previews of the .Net Compact Framework, a version of the larger blueprint for portable computing devices; the SDKs (software developers kits) for .Net Alerts and .Net My Services, a set of basic Web-services Microsoft has created for consumers and business; the SDK for Microsoft Tablet PC; a preview of a Web services tool kit for Office XP; a preview of the .Net Speech developers kit to build voice recognition support into Web services, and a preview of Microsoft's Commerce Server 2002.
Microsoft's .Net is intended to offer the software, tools and building blocks to enable the creation and dissemination of Web services, allowing access to data anytime, anyplace and on any device that is connected to the Internet.
Early examples of how .Net strategy will be built into software can already be seen from Microsoft and its development partners. The software maker has rolled out a variety of server software products in its .Net enterprise server line that have built-in support for XML to lay the groundwork for .Net. Also this week, Microsoft is due to widely release the Windows XP operating system, which incorporates some early .Net concepts based on XML.
Microsoft's SQL Server, which currently has XML on its top layer, will feature the Web services standard in its core when the next version of the database software is released, code-named Yukon, Gates said. XML will be the central way the database deals with information. In preparation for Yukon, Microsoft Tuesday announced the immediate availability of SQLXML 2.0, a set of components that extends the use of XML in SQL Server through Visual Studio.Net.
Microsoft's Office software suite will also become a tool for working with XML documents, he said. The company is working on a future version that will allow users to display and edit XML documents.
"XML would be the fabric to tie all these things together," Gates said.
The company has made headway with the initial services it plans to offer consumers and business customers that makes use of all this new software. Known as .Net My Services, formerly Hailstorm, the company has developed a set of basic Web services that can be the building blocks for creating other new services. Underpinning .Net My Services is Microsoft's single sign-on authentication system, Passport.
Explained in part at the Professional Developers Conference, Microsoft said it will release the set of hosted Web services in full later next year. An initial service, called .Net Alerts, is already available through Windows Messenger and is being used by some early adopters of .Net.
Partners have also begun using .Net services to build their own applications. Verizon Communications Inc. Tuesday demonstrated a prototype Web service it expects to offer its customers in the future. Based on the Windows Messenger and .Net Alert technologies available with the release of Windows XP, the mobile-phone service provider has built a Web application that allows users to access cell-phone voice mails and caller ID logs from a connected computing device, as well as to set call forwarding policies.
"That's a very good example of .Net at work," Gates said.