[SunWorld] .Net is real : New scripting technology from Microsoft looks promising

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From: Shekhar Mahadevan (e_ceo@yahoo.com)
Date: Wed Aug 09 2000 - 14:55:25 PDT

A data point. Also check out




.Net is real : New scripting technology from Microsoft
looks promising
In this week's Regular Expressions, Cameron Laird and
Kathryn Soraiz take a look at Microsoft's highly
anticipated .Net initiative and find it has much to
offer. (1,500 words)



By Cameron Laird and Kathryn Soraiz
icrosoft's .Net initiative began to crystallize in the
late 1990s. It was designed to solve several
widespread Windows-generated exasperations: DLL
(dynamic link library) hell, the complexity of
installing and uninstalling software, and the
fragility of proprietary configuration. To eliminate
these problems, Redmond decided to add another layer
of indirection while implementing interoperability
through XML (Extensible Markup Language). According to
Dick Hardt, founder of the ActiveState Tool
Corporation, Microsoft has scripted the indirection
and data transparency well enough that ".Net removes
all the configuration issues and complexity with
ActiveX and COM [Component Object Model]." At the same
time, .Net has better performance than COM.

Of course, Microsoft has a history of making grand
promises for its products and then not delivering on
them. We're not certain that .Net's fate will be
better, but early indications are promising.

".Net is about programmer productivity," Hardt says.
We're struck by how much .Net is an elaboration of
scripting technologies. Scripting has to do with
effective patterns of generalization -- using the
computer to automate solutions. Also, as Microsoft CEO
and president Steve Ballmer aptly puts it, "The world
is going more decentralized." These are precisely the
ideas .Net exploits.

VS gets you to IL
.Net applications run both a runtime framework and an
intermediate language (IL) execution engine; the
latter performs just-in-time (JIT) compilation. IL
appears to have as much power and flexibility as
developers currently need, with working code generated
for C, BASIC, COBOL, Perl, and Python. Different
languages share the common language runtime (CLR), but
in a manageable way. While DLLs easily fall into
conflict with Windows systems, single .Net
applications can incorporate multiple versions of a
single DLL. The release of .Net should mark the end of
the DLL conflicts that plague so many Windows

This means that, under .Net, the installation of
software consists of copying a single executable file
image -- no reboot required! Applications and DLLs
include metadata that suffices for the resolution all
interdependencies. There is even a standard mechanism
for network retrieval of undefined or updated
components. The same mechanism provides the
opportunity for performance specializations:
particular DLLs can be optimized for MMX-savvy chips
or multiprocessing hosts, and will still follow
generic instructions for the majority of

Though Microsoft at the moment has terrible problems
with the security of its software, .Net specifies a
signature verification mechanism that promises
"security granularity down to the method," according
to Hardt.

Regular Expressions readers know how fond we are of
anything that moves end users away from dealing with
the details of installation -- the registry,
datatypes, versioning, and other matters that
computers ought to manage. .Net doesn't just eliminate
the registry and open all metadata to plain-text
introspection; it does all this with full
cross-language integration and interoperability. IL
provides for proper object inheritance expressible in
any popular computing language.

The golden chain Microsoft has designed for developers
is Visual Studio 7 (VS). VS fully unifies not only
Visual Basic, Visual C++, and Visual InterDev, but
ActiveState, Perl, and Python. VS defines the
fundamental framework for development of .Net
applications. The clever compilation of IL and .Net's
excellent design appear to be yielding performance
superior to that of COM-based applications.

Does this mean VS will become as necessary to
developers as Windows and Office have been to
conventional desktop users? It appears that .Net's
fundamentals will be documented better than COM ever
has been, so competition to VS will be more feasible
on a technical level than it has been for the more
closed products. On the other hand, if VS releases are
of adequate quality, many developers will agree with
Hardt when he says that "Microsoft has done a good job
of advancing the base technology of what a modern OS
needs to provide and improve."

Really real
Let's review the status of .Net's core pieces. SOAP
exists now and has been reasonably well understood for
many months. As of yet, there are virtually no
shrink-wrapped applications that exploit SOAP in the
way that Microsoft says will become natural once the
Web replaces the desktop as the foundation of
programming. Microsoft demonstrations raise security
questions more than they excite prospective customers.

On the other hand, SOAP 1.1 answers some of those
questions. Release 1.1 is more transport neutral; it
not only works across HTTP, but across email
connections as well. IBM and other proposal cosponsors
helped rewrite the 1.1 standard in terms of the W3C's
XML Schema rather than 1.0's data-typing syntax. Many
different languages already support SOAP, and
Microsoft's own Passport Web identity service is a
SOAP server. ActiveState's PerlEx plugin for leading
Windows-hosted commercial Web servers provides what
Hardt considers the ability to "assign components with
... the SOAP stuff done for you." The Perl Package
Manager now in ActiveState's ActivePerl uses SOAP to
manage version and module information. Among other
developer tools which currently expose SOAP 1.0 are
IBM's devLabs application-development environment and
Rogue Wave's XORBA CORBA-XML link.

Microsoft has been working on IL with outside partners
such as ActiveState and Interactive Software
Engineering for over a year. Attendees at PDC received
software development kits for alpha-level IL and CLR
pieces. Beta versions appear to be on schedule for
release this fall. Hardt expects them to be comparable
in polish to the first betas of NT 5.0 (aka Windows
2000). Microsoft partners report plans for .Net to be
at least as ubiquitous in the next five years of
application programming as COM has been in the last

ASP+ and C# are ready now, and have even been
documented in a few books by publishers outside
Microsoft. While Microsoft is currently pushing C# as
the ideal vehicle for .Net development, C#'s adoption
is tangential to .Net's success.

ASP+ is a similarly disjointed technology. Hardt likes
the way ASP+ partitions development of Web
applications. One of ASP+'s benefits is its ability to
isolate the coding of visual design from algorithmic
use of computing components. This is a significant
improvement over the way the older ASP mixed the two
kinds of programming. ASP+ also includes several
technical improvements in process management. The .Net
framework can combine ASP+ features with its access to
knowledge about client capabilities ("Is a telephone
asking for this page?" "Does the client have
JavaScript turned on?") for interesting optimizations.
Again, there's a weak enough coupling between ASP+ and
other .Net pieces to permit hope that they can evolve
within the limits of publicly accessible interfaces.

.Net futures, scripting realities
We've all had so much experience with Microsoft
vaporware that it's natural to be suspicious of the
company's .Net publicity. In this case, though,
Microsoft has done enough to merit a closer look. IBM,
ActiveState, and other vendors are already exploiting
SOAP. We should know by the end of the year whether
the other base elements of .Net bring advantages to
computer developers and users.

In the meantime, the scripting technologies we often
cover are still on the boil. The leaders of Perl,
Python, and Tcl don't seem to realize progress is
supposed to ease up during vacation season. Larry Wall
announced his vision for Perl 6 at the O'Reilly Open
Source Convention. The lead Python developers are
settling in with new employer PythonLabs.com and
working out plans for Python 2.0, while Tcl creator
John Ousterhout is creating a new Tcl core team to
distribute leadership for his language's development.
Regular Expressions will stay on top of all this
activity in the months ahead.

  About the author
Cameron Laird and Kathryn Soraiz manage Phaseit, their
own software consultancy, from just outside Houston.
Visit Cameron's Scripting Languages & Techniques
discussion in the Unix forum, hosted on ITworld.com.

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