.NET is both a business strategy from Microsoft and its collection of programming support for what are known as Web services, the ability to use the Web rather than your own computer for various services. Microsoft's goal is to provide individual and business users with a seamlessly interoperable and Web-enabled interface for applications and computing devices and to make computing activities increasingly Web browser-oriented. The .NET platform includes servers; building-block services, such as Web-based data storage; and device software. It also includes Passport, Microsoft's fill-in-the-form-only-once identity verification service.
The .NET platform was designed to provide:
- The ability to make the entire range of computing devices work together and to have user information automatically updated and synchronized on all of them
- Increased interactive capability for Web sites, enabled by greater use of XML (Extensible Markup Language) rather than HTML
- A premium online subscription service, that will feature customized access and delivery of products and services to the user from a central starting point for the management of various applications, such as e-mail, for example, or software, such as Office .NET
- Centralized data storage, which will increase efficiency and ease of access to information, as well as synchronization of information among users and devices
- The ability to integrate various communications media, such as e-mail, faxes, and telephones
- For developers, the ability to create reusable modules, which should increase productivity and reduce the number of programming errors
According to Bill Gates, Microsoft expects that .NET will have as significant an effect on the computing world as the introduction of Windows. One concern being voiced is that although .NET's services will be accessible through any browser, they are likely to function more fully on products designed to work with .NET code.
The full release of .NET is expected to take several years to complete, with intermittent releases of products such as a personal security service and new versions of Windows and Office that implement the .NET strategy coming on the market separately. Visual Studio .NET is a development environment that is now available. Windows XP supports certain .NET capabilities.