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Microsoft grapples with .NET's lifespan

Users like the San Bernadino County Schools are already hearing rumors that the .NET environment might be losing Microsoft's support. The district is moving its apps to .NET from MPE/iX, a project that's scheduled to be complete by 2015. But that deadline might be long after Microsoft's plans to keep .NET a strategic choice for IT.

For the HP 3000 customer, this is familiar territory. In the 1980s and 1990s, HP dev environments such as Allbase 4GL and Transact fell from grace at Hewlett-Packard. The same fate fell to the 3000 and MPE as well. By the end of the '90s, HP statements that a product was "strategic" were processed like a kiss of death; a product would get that label a few years before dropping off the price list.

A similar conflict over the fate of .NET is taking place at Microsoft, by some accounts. The vendor gave a technology preview this week and failed to mention either Silverlight, its Flash-like tool, or .NET. Reports from the IT blog The Register suggest that the Windows development team considers both Silverlight and .NET to be legacy technology.

Windows 8 is the first product that will segregate .NET into a special place, not a location you want your architecture to live. Win 8's tiled mode "has a new development platform based on HTML and Javascript, exploiting the rich features of HTML5, and the fast Javascript engine and hardware acceleration in the latest Internet Explorer." HTML and Javascript don't play a part in the .NET success story, the Register notes.

The fear of .NET developers is that Microsoft's Windows team now regards not only Silverlight but also .NET as a legacy technology. Everything will still run, but to take full advantage of Tiled mode you will need to use the new HTML and Javascript model.

Underlying the discussion is that developers have clients, and clients want applications that run on a platform with a future. Currently, Microsoft is promoting HTML and Javascript as the future for Windows applications, putting every client-side .NET developer at a disadvantage in those pitches.

From the outside, it still looks as if Microsoft's Server and Tools division is pulling one way, and the Windows team the other. Group president Steven Sinofsky, the man who steered Windows 7 to launch so successfully, is a hard person to oppose even for CEO Steve Balmer.

The Register also reports, by way of ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, that .NET champion Scott Guthrie is moving to Windows Azure. The co-inventor of ASP.NET, Guthrie will still be responsible for that product, and it seems likely that Visual Studio 2010 will gain tools to develop into Javascript and HTML environments.

The COBOL code at the San Bernadino schools is becoming Microsoft's C#, and the dev environment is Visual Studio. At least the former looks like it's now in play at Microsoft. .NET has been a Microsoft success, despite some bumps over the last 10 years. But for a company finding a new way into the second decade of this century -- a period defined by mobile computing and the cloud -- Azure may be rising beyond this popular Microsoft architecture.

There is some hope and help from the third party community to handle the murky future picture. Micro Focus has released Visual COBOL R3 to bring COBOL to a range deployment platforms including .NET, the Java Virtual Machine and the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud platform for the first time.

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