.Net gets close to fruition

Whether Microsoft can deliver the platform by its self-imposed year-end deadline is no sure thing

After some initial hiccups, Microsoft has delivered stable beta versions of its basic .Net development tools.

However the software maker will be under the gun to get the final versions of the tools by a deadline imposed by chief software architect and chairman Bill Gates. The tools will be used to develop next-generation Web services.

Microsoft presented several new components of .Net to developers at its TechEd conference in Atlanta late last month, including the second beta of Visual Basic .Net and Visual Studio .Net. Microsoft said it is so assured of the quality of these betas that it will sell beta customers an ASP .Net Go Live licence that allows them to deploy applications in production environments.

This bodes well for coders on Microsoft's Visual Studio team who have received an ultimatum from Gates: have Visual Studio .Net released to manufacturing and available in the United States through the retail channel by year's end or else.

Officials say half of Visual Studio sales come through retail.

Tom Button, vice president of developer tools at Microsoft, told eWeek recently he is confident the code will be released to manufacturing this year. However, Button conceded that general availability could spill into next year. Microsoft's internal release date is believed to be 22 October.

The beta process around Visual Basic .Net in particular, a component of Visual Studio .Net, has stirred controversy among programmers who have used the Visual Basic language for years. The initial beta release included more than 70 changes to the way Visual Basic had previously worked, including changes in definitions, many of which developers said were unnecessary.

Still, many developers said the second beta is an overwhelming improvement on the first, even if many things still need to be fixed. "While there are still some bugs to be addressed, the functionality is much improved, and the run-time is reasonable," said Don Box, cofounder of DevelopMentor, in Torrance, California. "Any Visual Basic developer who wants to start building applications is far better off with this beta."

While Box welcomed the changes in the second beta, he said the jury is still out on the .Net tools.

Sam Patterson, chief executive of ComponentSource agreed, saying there is still a lot of tweaking to be done. "The beta hasn't been performance-tested yet, and Microsoft needs to work on getting better code from the compiler," Patterson said.

There are also some user interface problems, particularly the fact that resizing a window does not always work properly, he added.

But Dean Guida, president and chief executive of Infragistics, said the delivery of the second beta was a crucial milestone for Microsoft and for companies such as his seeking to work with the new platform.

"The biggest [change] from Beta 1 to Beta 2 is that it's now feature-complete," said Guida. "There aren't going to be code changes or major API changes. This is what we're all going to go to market with."

Referring to Microsoft's ASP .Net Go Live licence, Guida said this is the first instance he can remember when Microsoft allowed code to be deployed in applications before its commercial release. "This allows companies that are not on the bleeding edge to take this CD and start building real applications," he said.

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