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Software of the future

The June issue of MSDN Magazine got here this week. It's currently sitting on my desk, with the plastic wrapper unopened. That's because I can see the inch-high type on the cover: "ASP.NET 2.0 Revealed!" And every single story appears to be related to ASP.NET 2.0.

Now, the last time I checked, ASP.NET 2.0 was scheduled to come out with Visual Studio .NET 2005 in, you guessed it, 2005. That's a year from now. That means for most of us, two years from now before our customers have switched existing systems over, if we're lucky. Am I interested in ASP.NET 2.0? Sure. Am I interested in it today? Not really. I have much better things to work on today (like why an ASP.NET 1.1 application isn't properly displaying PDF files to some clients).

MSDN Magazine is hardly alone in this relentless coverage of the future, of course. They just happen to be the one on top of the stack on my desk. The computer trade press - both on dead trees and online - is chock full of articles on software that doesn't really exist yet. Much of this activity is driven by the Microsoft hype machine. And periodicals aren't the only place where this curious focus resides. Amazon.com already lists three books on the subject. Considering the lead time for book publishers, these books must be based on very early versions of the software indeed.

Then of course there are the conferences where people speak of the soon (or not so soon) to be released versions, the Web sites where they're discussed, the newsgroups for support, and the folks over at Microsoft handing out alpha, beta, and even more broken versions like candy. If playing with software that doesn't really exist yet excites you, there's no particular shortage of ways to do so.

I'll confess, I've been a part of the hype machine in the past myself. I've written plenty of articles about things that aren't yet released, I've spoken at conferences on them, I've done my share of early beta testing (and then some). But over the years I've grown disillusioned. Part of that is because I'm spending more of my time working with actual customers now. I can't take out a beta copy of ASP.NET 2.0 to a customer site right now and do any real work with it. I've got to solve problems today, using today's tools. And that means keeping up with today's software.

Another part of the problem is that I've grown very wary of the release schedules of major pieces of software. The version of SQL Server that turned into SQL Server 2005 was first supposed to release in 2003, or at least that was the rumor that got to me. Good thing that I didn't postpone any 2002 projects waiting for its release. Longhorn and Whidbey (Visual Studio 2005) have had similar slips.

Of course, you still need to keep some on the future. It's good to have an idea which technologies will continue to be supported, and where Microsoft (and other vendors) are investing time and effort to make things better. I do more of this than most people need to, simple because part of my job is to provide you with my guesses as to what's going on. But for most developers, the appropriate time to get involved with a new product is at the Release Candidate stage, when things are basically working and you can actually learn how to use the product. As for me, I'll be letting some subscriptions lapse this year. The magazine copies I've already got stacked up unopened will last me for a year or more.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.

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