What an interesting month October was. In fact, what an interesting time to be a programmer. Why the excitement? Come with me on a journey that connects the Microsoft
.NET dots. To start it all off, Microsoft invested $138 million dollars in Corel, possibly saving Corel from having to close its doors. This investment represents a 25 percent stake in Corel, but the stock that Microsoft obtained is nonvoting stock. This means that, even though Microsoft does not have direct control of the board, Corel is going to listen to input from its new sugar daddy.
Nothing like the Microsoft .NET knights o’ the Redmond square table to ride in and save the day, eh? What’s that old saying? Beware of geeks bearing gifts?
Lest you be wondering why Microsoft is in such an altruistic mood, let me point back to Microsoft’s .NET platform that was announced in July. Again, a lot of Microsoft
.NET is a marketing rebranding strategy, kind of like putting “new and improved” on your tube of trusty tooth polish or slapping a trendy name like eserver on a venerable workhorse like the AS/4...er, iSeries.
However, as I have pointed out in my October article “Nothing but .NET,” there is a lot of technology under the hood of Microsoft .NET that is actually impressive: the Common Language Infrastructure (CLI) and the fact that it is language-neutral, thus allowing a programmer to choose the most appropriate language to solve specific business problems. In the past, I have said that this will be one of the most significant things to affect programming on the Windows platform since the invention of vertically-cleaved baked leavened wheat products. Now Microsoft has made an investment that will bring its sliced baked goods to a platform near you.
To wit, the Securities and Exchange Commission filings that accompanied Microsoft’s investment into Corel specifically states that the intention is to bring Corel’s expertise in the Linux arena to the development of the Microsoft .NET platform. This is lawyer speak for the interrogatory “they’re gonna port Microsoft .NET to Linux!” The paperwork asserts that Corel will supply a team of up to 20 full-time developers to the project and up to 10 full-time testers. Microsoft will have up to three years to request Corel to do this port, but this port has probably already secretly begun; if not by Corel, then by some skunk works with plausible deniability near the Redmond campus. In fact, if you are building a common-language platform, one way to check your work is to implement multiple languages into it. Microsoft has 15 languages that are now supported in CLI. The second way to assess the CLI is to put it on multiple platforms and test the implementation. Last word? CLI on Linux is a fait accompli. It would not be politically correct for Microsoft
to do the port itself; that would be seen as acknowledging Linux as a viable platform. So, IMHO, Microsoft hired guns to do it, and, that way, its hands appear clean.
OK, September wasn’t so bad a month either. In the October issue, I reported that Microsoft was going to submit C# and the CLI to European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA). Sure enough, it did on September 28th at the meeting in Bath in the UK. CLI was sponsored into ECMA by four companies: Fujitsu, HP, Microsoft, and Intel. Also, IBM, Netscape, Pixo, Share, and Sun Microsystems expressed an interest in participating in the standardization process. The TG3 group will be responsible for CLI, and Sam Ruby of IBM is designated as the convener. Add to this tidbit the information that I got from a good source in IBM: “We are currently studying implementing CLI on the AS/400.” That only makes sense; if CLI brings language neutrality to the Windows platform and then transitions to the Linux platform, it is only a matter of time before CLI makes it to the AS/400. IBM has a decent track record of implementing good technologies; look at how quickly it adopted Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). It only stands to reason that IBM wants to bring more applications to the AS/400 platform. Also, this would allow heathen Windows programmers a stable, robust, mission-critical platform to run their new Microsoft .NET toys on. Another interesting morsel, from the ECMAScript TC39 meeting notes (www2. hursley.ibm.com/tc39/mins-28sep00.html), is that Microsoft is working on two CLI implementations (Windows and non-Windows), as well as an open source implementation. My bet is that there is also an HP-UX implementation in the works, since HP is a cosponsor of the CLI spec and the C# language.
In other news, Steve Balmer said that Microsoft may port the CLI to Palm, thereby letting platform-challenged Windows developers write applications that will run there also. In addition, I think that Microsoft will make CLI available on its upcoming Xbox gaming platform. This would allow any program written to the CLI spec to also run on the Xbox. CLI as an entrée to the massive consumer market, anyone?
Connecting .NET to .WHEN
So, the question is, when will you see all of this manna from heaven? Well, Visual Studio 7 beta 1 should be in developers’ paws by the time that you read this. That will be the first shipment of Microsoft .NET tools and languages. The estimated street date for production Visual Studio 7 is April 2001, and Microsoft may make that date. I have been playing with the alpha that was released in July, and I am impressed. As soon as I have news on the functionality of the beta, rest assured I will report it back to you. The Chinese have an ancient proverb: May you live in interesting times. Ain’t it an interesting time to be a programmer?