Two days before he kicks off Windows XP in New York, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates outlined for software developers in Los Angeles a technology roadmap that could be even more important to them than the new operating system.
On the first day of its annual Professional Developer Conference, Microsoft Tuesday shipped release candidate versions of Visual Studio.Net--a major revision to its development tool suite aimed at users who write Web services--and of the .Net Framework, the company's new object model for this type of development. Delivery of a release candidate typically signals that Microsoft is within sight of a product's release. "We're definitely on track to ship these bits before the end of the year," Gates said during his keynote address. Developers should be able to buy Visual Studio.Net early next year.
The debut of the new tools will push Windows developers into an environment in which the vendor advocates writing apps that call components and routines not only from a PC's directory and from machines on a local network, but also from computers accessible via the Internet.
Microsoft also plans to include the .Net Framework--new runtime and component libraries--with Windows products in its tools suite. Windows.Net Server, due next year, and Tablet PCs, due next year and slated to run an enhanced version of Windows XP, will also include the software.
Microsoft also released the first technology preview of its .Net Compact Framework, a scaled-down version of the component model for devices running the upcoming Windows CE.Net operating system, which has been known by its code name, "Talisker." That would let developers write to CE devices using the languages in Visual Studio, which isn't possible today.
Gates says a common programming model for various Windows devices could help move the PC industry toward designing user interfaces in which Web sites and applications look and feel more alike. "We have two experiences compounded in Windows," he says. Application software should also include the ability to navigate forward and backward through a history of screens. "That boundary should be eliminated."
Microsoft is working on changes to its application software that embody Gates' vision of writing apps that read and write data in XML format. "Office needs to be able to present XML documents," he says. XML tags could also extend digital rights management to personal files, letting users control how Office documents are distributed after they're E-mailed, for example.