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Why hasn't everyone moved to .NET?

Has your organization moved all of its new Windows-based development to .NET? For many of you, the answer is no. I'm sure Microsoft isn't entirely happy about this, but there are understandable reasons why IT departments are delaying the adoption of this technology. I'd like to explore some of these reasons, and think a bit about whether -- and when -- this situation will change.

From what I've seen, the three major reasons for putting off the move to .NET are the following:

* People are still confused about what .NET is. The truth is that, whatever Microsoft's current marketing message, .NET effectively means the .NET Framework today. The .NET Enterprise Servers -- Microsoft's umbrella name for SQL Server, BizTalk Server, Commerce Server and others -- are still around, of course, and they're still popular products, but no one views them as the primary new technology path marked by .NET.

Similarly, .NET My Services, Microsoft's ambitious attempt to provide Internet-accessible storage for personal information, is being re-thought after getting a thumbs-down from its target market. This leaves the .NET Framework (along with its toolset, Visual Studio .NET) as the centerpiece of the .NET initiative.

In practice, then, moving to .NET means adopting the .NET Framework. This simple fact has not been made entirely clear to IT decision makers who must drive this change, and the resulting confusion is one reason they've put off the move.

* .NET shipped just in time for the worst technology industry recession in memory. The bursting of the bubble has left IT spending more than a little depressed. As a result, plenty of IT managers feel that paying for a major technology transition is not the best use of their scarce funds at the moment. Introducing new technologies when times are flush is challenging enough, but doing it during a downturn is even more problematic.

* There's been no obviously compelling reason to adopt .NET. Microsoft says the .NET Framework has industry-leading support for creating and using Web services, and it does. Windows-based organizations that want to build Web services should adopt .NET immediately. The problem, at least for Microsoft, is that many organizations aren't yet building Web services.

So why should development managers bear the cost of retraining staff to use .NET? The .NET world contains many improvements that developers and architects can exploit but, apart from great Web services support, not one of these reasons has been compelling enough to push every organization over the migration hurdle.

These issues are real, and organizations that have been slow to adopt .NET are mostly behaving rationally. Nonetheless, I am convinced that the rate of .NET adoption will pick up. Technical decision makers will eventually work out that moving to .NET means moving to the .NET Framework, and the technology recession will end, as all economic troughs do.

Most important, though, the most compelling reason for Windows development organizations to adopt .NET will become more and more apparent. What is this reason? It's simple: Building native Windows apps today using the older Windows DNA technologies makes no sense. Think about those applications two years from now, five years from now or 10 years from now. Who's going to maintain them? Where will you find people with the right skills, not to mention the willingness, to remain deeply conversant with what will then be archaic technologies like COM? The single strongest reason to move to .NET is to make your own life easier in the future.

The .NET Framework offers plenty of benefits, and your people likely will be more productive once they've mastered it. From what I've seen, the benefits of this new environment are real. And yes, making the move entails spending time and money. But if you plan to remain a Windows-oriented development shop, moving to .NET is inevitable. You do yourself no favors by putting it off longer than you have to.

About the Author

David Chappell is principal at Chappell & Associates, an education and consulting firm focused on enterprise software technologies. He can be reached via E-mail at david@davidchappell.com.

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