TORONTO — Forget marketing and mudslinging: Microsoft Corp.’s vision of Web services, christened .Net, is just as open as any other, say developers using the software giant’s Visual Studio.Net.

“.Net was really created

by developers,” says Anthony Vranic, a solutions architect with Toronto-based Thinkpath Inc.

“It is really a developer’s message.”

About 1,500 developers were on hand Thursday to hear about Visual Studio.Net, now in beta 2 and expected to hit the streets in late February 2002.

Visual Studio.Net is Microsoft’s rapid application development (RAD) tool for building Web applications and XML Web services, as well as a key part of its .Net strategy.

Web services include the process of connecting information and services on the Web such that they can be accessed from any device. From an infrastructure and business-to business point of view, it could allow disparate — even legacy — applications to talk to one another, either within an organization or between partners or suppliers.

While .Net has been criticized as being proprietary and not clearly defined, Vranic says Microsoft’s concept of Web services is no more closed than the visions of Web services offered by other large vendors. Sun Microsystems, for example, recently unveiled more details of its Web services strategy and has been a vocal critic of Microsoft .Net. IBM, meanwhile, has been pushing a Web services message since May.

Vranic says sometimes Microsoft’s marketing message can overpower the reality of its technology offerings. “I can understand where the skepticism comes from,” he says in regards to the criticism of .Net today. But, he says, Microsoft’s .Net framework of connecting diverse devices and applications across a virtual enterprise doesn’t just include those running just Microsoft applications or operating systems — it’s very much expected that many organizations will have heterogeneous infrastructures that include a variety of technologies, including Windows, Unix and Linux.

.Net is also making use of the same open standards as other vendors in the Web services arena. These include Extensible Markup Language (XML), Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) — an XML-based specification for a registry, or catalog, of businesses and the services  they provide on their Web sites, and Web Services Description Language (WSDL).

“These are open standards,” says Vranic. He says the battle is no longer about the standards or the operating environment, but about which vendor can deliver the best tools and solutions.

Vranic had developed software for a number of different platforms, including Macintosh and Unix, but says Visual Studio.Net has become his favorite development tool to date.

One of the key components of Visual Studio.Net is Microsoft’s programming language, C# (pronounced ‘see sharp’), which is its closet competing language to Java. Vranic doesn’t discount the usefulness of Java, but says it’s important to note that Microsoft is pushing C# to become a standard in its own right. “(Microsoft) is not going to force you to use C#.”

The standards that form the basis of creating a Web service are not revolutionary, says John Lam, a developer who currently writes and delivers training classes for Wintellect and co-author of the recently released Essential XML. XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI are concepts fairly easy for experienced developers to grasp, says Lam, but creating a Web service still takes actual programming work. “It’s not a magic solution.”

Michael Flynn, developer tools and marketing manager at Microsoft Canada Co., says .Net and Visual Studio.Net in particular have grown out of the input from customers and developers over the years. “This is about return on investment and total cost of ownership,” he says. Visual Studio.Net is fully integrated into Microsoft’s .Net framework and provides support for multiple programming languages, including more obscure ones such as Cobol and RPG, which can still be found in many organizations, says Flynn. Visual Studio.Net also automatically handles common programming tasks, freeing developers to create Web applications in whatever language they want.

One of the initial concerns about Visual Studio.Net was that it was too much of a departure from its predecessor, Visual Basic 6. Now that beta 2 of Visual Studio is in the hands of the developers, Flynn says, those concerns — in particular the ability to migrate applications from VB6 — have disappeared. “Those worries have completely died away.”

Microsoft Developer Days is a one-day conference for technology developers and architects which stops at 11 cities across Canada through Dec. 6.

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