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Microsoft re-explains .Net strategy

The software giant's elusive initiative--a hot topic a few years ago but overshadowed by other Microsoft efforts lately--is declared alive and well by a Comdex panel.

LAS VEGAS--Yes, Virginia, there is a Microsoft .Net.

The software giant's elusive strategy--a hot topic a few years ago but overshadowed by other Microsoft efforts lately--was declared alive and well during a panel at the Comdex trade show.

While .Net was initially understood as a strategy for delivering software functionality as a Web-based service, it actually represents several major changes in direction for Microsoft, said John Montgomery, a group product manager for the software giant.

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"I think Microsoft did a poor job when we introduced this and just stuck the .Net name on different products," Montgomery said.

"We've really done two things at once with this term .Net," he said, saying the term refers to a new model for working with Windows developers and a commitment to working with open standards to ensure interoperability between disparate computing systems. "Fundamentally, we're focused on making Windows a better place to build and deploy applications," he said.

Comdex panelists mostly focused on the interoperability aspect of .Net, giving Microsoft mixed grades for getting the standards gospel. Laura DiDio, an analyst for research firm Yankee Group, said the software maker has a genuine zeal for standards such as Extensible Markup Language (XML).

"Since Bill Gates went back to being the chief scientist...Microsoft is very focused on a coherent message," she said. "That is XML everywhere and being much more open in terms of schemas and API's (application programming interfaces). It's real, it's happening, and Microsoft is making great strides."

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Greg Stein, chairman of the Apache Software Foundation, the group behind the open-source Web server software, gave Microsoft respectable marks for standards compliance but questioned the immediate effect. ".Net allows you to interoperate with a bunch of things, and that means it's not going to be a great driving force," he said. "I see .Net really as still just a branding exercise."

Stein added that although building software to open standards is good, the open-source development model is a bigger issue for Microsoft. "Open source really drives the commoditization of software," he said. "People are building more and more on top of these free technologies. People who try to sell frameworks are going to have a hard time doing that."