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Why O'Reilly and .NET?

by Dale Dougherty

At O'Reilly, because we are closely identified with open source, I expect that the opening of our .NET DevCenter on O'Reilly Network will raise some eyebrows. I know that it has raised some questions internally. Why are we spending resources explaining Microsoft technology? Certainly, one of the objections is that .NET is from Microsoft and anything from Microsoft is dangerous. Another is that there's little substance to .NET and this new, ill-defined and unproven thing gets far more attention than it deserves. Why .NET?

Let me address the issue through a digression. One of my favorite TV shows was James Burke's Connections. Burke made the point over and over again that inventions were often the result of making connections between several separate developments. Sometimes you see these connections. Or, to paraphrase the frightened boy in the movie, The Sixth Sense, "You see things." Look at what's going on in the open source community and the diversity of projects that became possible through network-enabled collaboration. Look at Microsoft's .NET as a response to how the Internet (and its billions of connected devices) undermines their desktop dominance and erodes the control they had over services and interfaces. You might have this feeling that something new is emerging. Tim O'Reilly has begun calling it "The Internet Operating System," where the services normally provided by an operating system are distributed on the Net. He sees connections among such disparate developments as P2P, web services, .NET, JXTA and open source. It's a new way of thinking about all the components of our computing platform, one that connects all our devices and applications through consistent interfaces.

We are excited because the .NET framework reflects the idea that the next generation development platform is the Internet, not Microsoft's desktop, not Oracle's database server, and not Sun's Java language. We don't necessarily think that Microsoft's .NET has all the answers, but we'd love to see the open source community engage with .NET and formulate its own response.

O'Reilly has already published a book (C# Essentials) on .NET and we have several more books in the works. I asked John Osborne, Executive Editor at O'Reilly, why .NET is important topic for O'Reilly.

.NET is Microsoft on the Internet, a distributed operating system that, in effect, provides a platform for building applications that run across the web. Because Microsoft so thoroughly dominates the desktop and browser markets and occupies such a central position in the software industry, any move it makes to rationalize development of web enabled applications is worth watching, and inevitably, many developers and corporations will be attracted to its approach.

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But O'Reilly's interest in publishing books on .NET for developers goes beyond simple business imperatives. First, the .NET platform and its growing array of tools promises to radically simplify development of web-enabled applications, such as web services, in ways that Visual Studio did for desktop applications. The open source community has been playing catch-up in this arena for years and no real alternatives exist. Second, the applications that .NET developers build will be part of the ecology of the web and will communicate and co-exist with similar applications on other platforms. Developers of such services on other platforms will need to communicate with .NET implementations, and vice versa, and who better than O'Reilly to bridge the gap?

Finally, the architecture of .NET does not rule out open source implementations and in fact serves as model, albeit a proprietary one, for how to build more open alternatives. We want to publish information that helps such projects come into being, and to help them spread the word to developers once they do. I think that our job is to be both a "skeptical" publisher and an "open" publisher of .NET information, a source of honest, practical information about what works and what doesn't, and a publisher for those in pursuit of a peaceful and profitable coexistence.

To be clear, .NET is many things, some of which are hard to figure out. There's the .NET framework that is a development and runtime environment, which includes its own Foundation Class Libraries (FCL.NET) and C#. This evolving framework will integrate and employ already existing Window programming technologies including Visual Basic (VB.NET), Active Server Pages (ASP.NET) and ActiveX Data Objects (ADO.NET). There's also the Web services components such as Hailstorm, which includes Passport as the central authentication server. Microsoft's attempt to control or own our identity on the Net is very disturbing.

Our .NET DevCenter will largely focus on the .NET development platform. Tim O'Reilly and I were most surprised at a recent Open Source meeting by remarks from Miguel de Icaza (of Gnome and Ximian) who said that .NET's development environment was terrific -- state of the art. He liked C# and has begun working in this environment. He believes there is growing interest in the open source community "embracing and extending" .NET rather than competing with it. In short, the IDE, C#, the common runtime library, and the interfaces are well thought out and very useful. It's the best of breed. Enjoy the .NET DevCenter as an additional resource for your endeavors.

Today on the .NET DevCenter, you'll find the following features:

Conversational C# for Java Programmers, Part 1
Raffi Krikorian kicks off the first of a five-part series on C# for Java as well as .NET developers.

Hailstorm: Open Web Services Controlled by Microsoft
To an astonishing degree, Microsoft's Hailstorm relies on open standards like SOAP, Kerberos, and XML. But with typical audacity, MS also plans to centralize control of the system at critical junctures.

Brewing a HailStorm
Rael Dornfest has been digesting Microsoft's HailStorm announcement. Is it Microsoft's most ambitious land grab ever, or a shocking move toward open standards?

JVM to .NET: I'm Not Dead Yet!
Although Microsoft is loath to admit it, .NET is really their answer to Sun. However, the Java language, the Java Virtual Machine, and CORBA are still a threat.

In the coming weeks, we will be publishing feature articles and tutorials on C#, ASP.NET, VB.NET, Web Forms, .NET Web Services, Open Source .NET and much more as well as interviews with some of the best and brightest involved with .NET, including Miguel de Icaza who is attempting to extend and define the boundaries of this important plaform.

Dale Dougherty

Return to the .NET DevCenter.