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Selling developers on .Net

That prodigious task falls to Bill Gates' former technical assistant Eric Rudder who--depending on how he does--will ultimately have more influence over the future of Microsoft's bet-the-company .Net software strategy than his more famous boss.

4 min read
He's hardly as well-known as Bill Gates but Eric Rudder will have more influence over the future of Microsoft's bet-the-company .Net software strategy than his more famous boss.

Rudder, Microsoft's 35-year-old senior vice president of developer and platform evangelism, is in charge of enlisting software developers to the cause--and keeping them happy. That's a big job because, simply put, without a large corps of developers behind it, .Net will remain a pipe dream.

It also means Rudder and his team need to convince software developers to support .Net by buying Microsoft's Visual Studio.Net software development tools as well as the company's family of e-business software for building and running their applications.

So far, this remains a work in progress. Gates last week gave Microsoft mixed grades. While he called the release of Visual Studio.Net in February a major milestone, he acknowledged that the technology had been slow to catch on.

Rudder, Gates' former technical assistant, sat down with CNET News.com to talk about the future of Web services and his goals for the coming year.

What will it take for Web services to really take off?
Typically, in this industry, we overestimate what can be done in one year and underestimate what can be done in five years. For doing business on the Web, we can't get off the ground without security and reliable messaging. That's our focus.

Do you have the pieces in place?
We have the essential foundation in SOAP, UDDI and WSDL. Customers want to take the base messaging work we've done and extend it to secure, reliable transacted messaging. When you see the messaging layer have those characteristics, you will see the next wave of applications take shape. Look at the work around WS-Security (specification) and that's the future direction. People are using Web services. It's a reality today. As people learn more about .Net and the tools get better, it's poised to take off.

Has the Web services concept been accepted by developers?
I think it's incredibly well-accepted.

How many Visual Studio.Net developers are building Web services applications?

(.Net) does not imply rip-and-replace. It's a Web services strategy.
A great majority of them. Visual Studio is a great tool for building rich client applications (on the computer) as well as distributed applications (via the Internet) . I think that people are taking advantage of existing applications and combining them with new solutions. A lot of people are looking at Web services as the perfect architecture.

Analyst firm Gartner recently released a study saying the costs of migrating to .Net are high. What's your response to that?
The main way I can answer that is to look at who's embracing .Net. It does not imply rip-and-replace. It's a Web services strategy. We preserve existing environments in (software) code and systems. While there is new training required and new technologies to learn, I think the return on investment in Web services is pretty good.

What's the long-term plan for the Visual Basic programming language? Some analysts have said that Microsoft ultimately wants to move developers to C#, Microsoft's Java-like language.
I think we made a clear, compelling bet to differentiate .Net to allow multiple languages. That's a different approach than our competitors. We want the personalities of the languages to shine through, be it C# or Visual Basic. We have 27 different language implementations. Language differentiation is important. Developers should choose the language that they're most comfortable with, the one that suits best their business needs.

How do you view the Java camp now?
The debate has moved from Java to Web services. It's 'what's your best platform to build Web services?' We've embraced the Java language through our J# product. Ultimately, people will work with platforms and choose which one provides the best Web services infrastructure. As people make comparisons, we will stack up favorably.

Do you view BEA's new WebLogic Workshop development tool for building Web services as competition?
Honestly, we see more competition from IBM over the long term.

Sun's has been on the warpath to join Web Services Interoperability organization as a founding board member. Sun software chief Jonathan Schwartz wants to have equal status with Microsoft and IBM in the standards group. What's Microsoft stance now on Sun being a founding board member?

The debate has moved from Java to Web services. It's 'what's your best platform to build Web services?'
"We'd love Sun to join. Sun was asked to join as a member. The WS-I would welcome them. What else can I say? Join, Jonathan, join."

So far, what do you view as your main successes?
Getting Visual Studio.Net to ship was an important milestone. We were a new division. It was building a team with all the research for developers and IT professionals--being successful, from training, certifications, content, tools and application-server infrastructure to our go-to market relationships with systems integrators. We have a holistic view and .Net's success rests with our partners.

Any failures?
I think it's very much a business that depends on great people. I wish we hired more great people, and are always working that. I think the success of the people we have far outweighs (not attracting the other potential employees.)

What are your goals for the next year?
Increase usage in academia and make sure we're the No. 1 architecture in the enterprise. Maintain a healthy, vibrant developer community and make sure the ecosystem is successful.

How do you keep that dialogue going?
We have advisory councils in the 10s or 20s (of people), professional developer conferences with 6,000 to 7,000 attendees, online newsgroups, answering e-mail, speaking at user's groups. If you look at .Net, for connecting information, people and devices, we are off to a great start in foundational work and getting the industry to move ahead. Sometimes you overestimate what can come down in the short-term and underestimate the long term. We're getting off to a good start."