10 years ago today, Microsoft unveiled the .NET Framework

Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer promised "the next generation Internet," but have they delivered?

10 years ago today, Microsoft promised to build "the next generation Internet." The occasion was Forum 2000, where Microsoft's Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer announced.NET, now one of the most popular frameworks used by software developers.

.NET seems like it has been around forever now, but on June 22, 2000, Ballmer mentioned the word ".NET" a whopping 62 times in his keynote address as he made his case to software developers.

"What is .NET?" Ballmer said. ".NET represents a set, an environment, a programming infrastructure that supports the next generation of the Internet as a platform. ... It is also, though, and Bill [Gates] made the analogy, I think, with Windows here pretty well for its day, .NET is also a user environment, a set of fundamental user services that live on the client, in the server, in the cloud, that are consistent with and build off that programming model. So, it's both a user experience and a set of developer experiences, that's the conceptual description of what is .NET."

It's interesting that Ballmer was already using the word "cloud", all the way back in 2000 before cloud computing was a commonly discussed set of technologies. But in the decade since then, it was really Google and Amazon that became the poster child vendors for the evolution of the Internet and cloud computing services for businesses and developers.

Microsoft's cloud vision, and .NET in particular, relies on Windows, of course, whereas much of the rest of the cloud computing world is based on open source technologies such as Linux and Xen virtualization.

Microsoft's implementation of .NET can only be installed on Windows machines, but the framework has been a success, when measured by user satisfaction. Microsoft .NET was rated the best overall framework by 425 software developers surveyed by the Evans Data Corp. recently, "with two Google offerings -- App Engine and Web Toolkit (GWT) -- coming in just slightly behind Microsoft in overall satisfaction," as the Microsoft Subnet recently reported.

The study rated frameworks by ten attributes, with ease of use being called the most important feature in a web development platform, ahead of performance and extensibility.

.NET's first release occurred on Feb. 13, 2002, a year and a half after it was announced, and the latest version - .NET Framework 4 - was released just two months ago.

10 years into its life, .NET is still a major part of Microsoft's cloud strategy. The company just updated the Windows Azure software development kit to add support for .NET Framework 4, making it easier for developers to build applications in the cloud.

While it was already possible to build .NET applications on Azure, support for .NET Framework 4 gives developers the same capabilities in the cloud as they have within their own networks, Microsoft said earlier this month. 

In his speech at Forum 2000, Ballmer downplayed the role of Linux in fueling growth of the Internet, saying "The Linux phenomenon continues to go along, but it's a phenomenon that works well in times when things are quite static, and people just want to hack around in the detail. I'm not sure it's a very good approach for taking new trails and affecting transformation."

While Windows market share certainly dwarfs that of Linux, Ballmer hasn't succeeded in killing off the open source competition, and many would argue that open source is what will fuel the next generation of cloud computing services. 

After 10 years, Microsoft is still betting on .NET as a key component of the next generation Internet. What role do you think .NET will play in cloud computing 10 years from today? 

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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