.NET fans, foes duke it out at Comdex

Is Microsoft's .NET application development framework the source of all that's good in IT or the root of all evil? Combatants from both camps debated the question at Comdex this week. Microsoft's supporters claimed that .NET uses XML to solve real problems, and opponents picked on the software giant's poor security track record and predatory sales practices.

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft Corp.'s controversial .NET application development framework has many ardent supporters and just as many fervent opponents. At Comdex Fall 2002 this week, combatants from both camps stepped into the ring, so to speak, to prove why .NET is either the source of all that's good in IT, or the root of all evil.

During the debate-style event, the anti-.NET team, featuring Sun Microsystems Inc.'s director of Java and Web services, Mark Herring, and ZapThink's founder and senior analyst, Ronald Schmelzer, exchanged verbal jabs with Don Jones, the founding partner of BrainCore.Net LLC, and Paul Kimmel, the president of Software Conceptions Inc.

Microsoft had been invited to participate but declined.

That didn't stop Herring from railing on the folks from Redmond for impeding enterprises' freedom to choose Microsoft and non-Microsoft components.

Herring said that because the .NET platform only runs on the Windows operating system, Microsoft can dictate how the framework is used and when to charge for additional services. He said it would be the equivalent of buying a television made by Microsoft, and then being charged additional licensing fees each time the channel is changed.

.NET detractors based some of their argument on Component Object Model (COM), Microsoft's framework for developing and supporting program component objects.

"Once you've got that investment in COM built up, it's hard to turn away," admitted Jones. But in Microsoft's defense, he said, .NET uses the open standard XML to transfer data. For that reason, developers can use .NET as the foundation for multi-tier applications built with Microsoft and non-Microsoft tools.

Schmelzer countered by focusing on Microsoft's weak track record on security and its many patches, even insinuating that Microsoft picked February to be its security focus month "because it's the shortest month of the year." He also said the company has adopted a "razor blade method of selling software" by using its controversial software licensing program to force customers into paying for new products that they may never need.

"Microsoft is a big target, and it's easy for [the industry] to make you feel that they deserve some of this anger," Kimmel said. "The bottom line is the .NET Framework is tangible, real and helps solve problems."

Yet it only solves problems, Herring retorted, for customers running Windows. Additionally, he said Microsoft showed how disinterested it is in cooperation when it formed the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) advocacy group without Sun.

"[Microsoft] had been yay deep in Java," which was created by developers at Sun, said Jones, "and they got sued over it. Forgive them if they're a little tentative" to work with Sun again.

In the end, after a few more barbs from each side, attendees' reactions were mixed. Wes Gates, LAN administrator for Stryker Corp. in Kalamazoo, Mich., said Microsoft .NET has "been muddled in great vagueness," but he thought Microsoft's defenders won the debate with points that illustrate how .NET is the best single-vendor solution.

Jeff Gerritsen, application development manager with software developer Business Pro SP in Boise, Idaho, gave the edge to the anti-Microsoft team. Gerritsen said they illustrated that Microsoft either locks its customers into its solution sets or forces them to go with other vendors because of cost constraints.

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