Hewlett-Packard on Tuesday announced an initiative to promote Microsoft's .Net Web services architecture to its enterprise customer base. The two companies are putting $50m (about £32m) into training HP staff and promoting the use of .Net. As part of the .Net Results programme, 5,000 HP salespeople will be trained on .Net, as well as 3,000 HP services people or developers, said Jacob Parsons, principal of the .Net practice at HP Services UK. Of the 3,000 certified developers, around 400 will be in the UK, said Parsons. "We will have a dedicated sales team focused on .Net, and a certification programme to drive our ability to meet the growth we expect in this area," he said. There is already strong activity in .Net, said Parsons: "There are real business users of .Net such as General Mills and the Wiltshire Constabulary. Over the last few months there has been significant activity in every one of our major verticals." HP already has qualified .Net professionals, as the initiative has been going informally for three or four months already. It will run for the next two years, reaching full strength by 2004. Parsons denied the company is dumping or downplaying the rival J2EE scheme. "We have a very strong commitment to .Net," he said. "But we as a company pursue an open systems strategy. We will support J2EE as well as .Net, because the market needs both." "We are seeing activity from both schemes," he said, "though from my perspective as managing principal of .Net, I will always see more of the .Net activity. In the UK, we offer both and our clients are actively pursuing both." However, there is no equivalent marketing programme for J2EE: "There is no need to invest in a programme to promote J2EE right now, but we will re-evaluate this as the market develops. Our consultants are cross-trained in both." Asked whether the .Net programme was seeding the market or responding to demand he said "It's a combination of both. Microsoft does a lot of market leading and evangelism around .Net, and that is going to create demand around .Net -- if it is successful." The deal underscores HP's progress on one of its pre-merger promises: a tighter relationship with Microsoft. Prior to the merger, Compaq was one of Microsoft's closest partners, even testifying for the software giant during its antitrust trial. HP, however, had a more distant relationship. Both HP chief executive Carly Fiorina and former Compaq chief executive, now HP president, Michael Capellas had said the new HP would leverage Compaq's relationship in an effort to forge closer ties. That appears to be happening. "Our relationship has significantly improved," Microsoft group vice president Jim Allchin told CNET News.com earlier this month. Asked if the Compaq influence was the leading factor, Allchin said, "I suspect that's a large part of it." Evidence of the closer relationship can be found in several recent announcements: HP will be one of the first to offer PCs running Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system, and HP's services unit also recently won a deal to manage Microsoft's internal help desk, an expansion of a deal Compaq had prior to the merger. Not all the moves HP has made since the merger closed indicate a tight relationship. For instance, the company also moved recently to bundle office software from Corel, rather than Microsoft's Works package, on its new consumer Pavilion PCs. CNET News.com's Wylie Wong and Ian Fried contributed to this report.