It's not About the OS Anymore

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By GregTitus
January 30, 2002

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Seriously. What problem is it that Microsoft is trying to solve with .NET? What piece are consumers missing that .NET will provide? They seem to be selling it to developers by saying "You can use whatever programming language you want! (as long as you're running the .NET framework underneath)." Which is pretty much the opposite of Java, which says "You can run this on whatever platform you want! (as long as you wrote it in Java)." But are they anticipating that the general public will just take it, because it's Microsoft and they don't think they have a choice? (I do, BTW, think there's truth to that assumption.)

The real answer is: .NET will make writing network-aware applications in Visual Basic easier. This makes thousands of corporate VB developers excited. Pretty much no one else who pays attention to the technology instead of the marketing seems to care at all.

(.NET will also result in thousands of 'network applications' out there on the Internet, written by those VB people that aren't necessarily aware of the security implications, and likely with 'holes' allowing access through corporate firewalls. They'll be dependent upon the .NET framework itself for security. Given Microsoft's track record, this does not bode well.)

There are a couple interesting wrinkles in the .NET technology, but nothing unique, and nothing that couldn't just as easily be done using other technologies (for instance, Java). .NET will probably be slightly easier for developers on Windows than Java is, but this is entirely due to Microsoft trying to make Java use as difficult and non-portable as they possibly can get away with.

Meanwhile, you can already get all the consumer benefits of the network service / net-aware application model today using other technologies. (Proof by example: iPhoto.)

Apple even already has most of the same desktop and network integration features in OS X that .NET is promising - but maybe in an unexpected place....

In OS X, open 'System Preferences', go to the 'Sharing' panel, the 'Application' tab, and click the checkbox for 'Allow Remote Apple events'.

You've just made every application on your system that can be scripted with AppleScript (most of them) into network-aware, net-enabled, application services. The network transmission is done via the open standard SOAP, exactly the same communication protocol that .NET is supposed to use.

(Now turn the checkbox back off. There aren't security implications as far as I know, but better safe than sorry. If you don't need it, don't enable it.)

We'll have to see whether Microsoft actually keeps to the SOAP standard, and you can't guarantee compatibility with something that doesn't exist yet, but theoretically Mac apps that support AppleScript will be able to act as .NET services, and you'll be able to invoke .NET services on other platforms simply by executing AppleScripts. I.e. we're talking about transparent translation here. (And if Microsoft screws it up, I expect Apple will support whatever wonky SOAP extensions MS comes up with in order to achieve interoperability.)

AppleScript is a way cool technology. Speaking as a NeXT bigot, I'd have to say that AppleScript is by far the coolest software technology that NeXT acquired when they sneakily executed their buyout of Apple for negative $400 million. :-)

So customer benefit is already in the bag. Interoperability is a very strong possibility already. All that is left is ease of development, and Cocoa has VB.NET and C# beat so bad that there is really no comparison.

In short, there is no technological reason for Apple to worry about .NET.



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