It’s almost 20 years ago now since I attended a noisy product launch at a dark, cavernous convention centre on the outskirts of Toronto. The event was to promote Microsoft’s new “.NET everything” strategy.
In honour of playing catch up with the Internet phenomenon, which had already been ongoing for over a decade, Microsoft was hurriedly adding the .NET suffix to all their products – ASP.NET, Visual Studio .NET, ADO.NET, Visual Basic .NET, et al.
The noise and testosterone level in the milling crowd of developers and IT guys (in those days almost the entire room was male) was high – as high as possible for programmers and assorted geeky types, anyway. We watched a few slide shows and product demonstrations before breaking en masse to the refreshments. I remember being impressed by the examples of using Visual Studio to create web sites. I later realized that the steep price was not worth it to write simple HTML pages.
These were the heady days when Microsoft had an 800-pound gorilla as a CEO. Infamous for his boardroom temper tantrums and furniture-throwing allegations, Steve Ballmer was also around for Microsoft’s FUD campaign, in partnership with SCO, against Linux. Ballmer was also around when Microsoft propped up Corel by buying over $100 million worth of Corel shares. Corel – perhaps coincidentally – quietly got out of the Linux business shortly after.
Sick of Microsoft’s bullying antics, I gradually went open-source myself, while continuing to use and teach others to use Microsoft's ubiquitous products at work. It was not long before Microsoft quietly dropped its plan for Microsoft Server .NET and released it as Windows Server 2003. After all the initial excitement, the whole .NET strategy quietly faded away too. Those, like myself, who had bought into it to begin with, realized that it was a marketing “re-branding” ploy and nothing more. Microsoft was still the “Windows and Office” company. The whole .NET hype was just Internet bandwagon-jumping.
Fast forward 20 years. I am admin for a small office network with 20 Microsoft 365 Business user accounts. Users are creating and sharing files on OneDrive, creating Outlook groups and SharePoint teams. We have our Microsoft server backing up to Azure. I am doing web development using Visual Studio Code and connecting to file shares on Azure using Azure Storage Explorer on a Ubuntu Linux machine. I recently watched a Microsoft video presentation about one of their new Azure file sync applications in which their tech presenter deftly opened a terminal on a Linux virtual machine and began issuing a bunch of shell commands as quickly and easily as he had just used PowerShell on a Windows machine.
What happened? Satya Nadella replaced Ballmer as CEO and pivoted the company from its forays into hardware toward the rapidly growing cloud computing space. Microsoft’s share price started to grow again as its aggressive attitude shrank. While I was initially skeptical of Office 365 as a desperate attempt to milk the Office cash cow one last time, the online version has proven to be all that most users need and simplifies the network admin’s thankless task of backups.
Microsoft seems to have given up its lawsuit agenda against Linux to concentrate, instead, on the future of computing. Its online offerings have helped many companies and their suddenly work-from-home workforce to continue their jobs during pandemic lock-downs. Instead of padding the retirement funds of lawyers, Microsoft is building out its data centres.
It seems that the promise that was Microsoft .NET has finally been realized, two decades later.