posted by Andrew Hudson on Tue 18th Jan 2005 18:49 UTC

".NET, Page 3/4"

Strategies for Introducing an Innovation

Introducing such a radical and all-encompassing platform strategy required a phenomenal effort by Microsoft. With a few exceptions the company has done an excellent job of educating customers and managing the transition from the old technologies and product to .NET.

A Big Introduction

.NET was initiated in 2000 with great pomp and circumstance. Any actual products were still years away but the announcement started the important process of educating customers. It was also effective at instilling fear, uncertainty, and doubt in its competitors’ camps. Microsoft was effective at articulating its strategy.

Free Education

Once the first set of Beta tools were available Microsoft began promoting them heavily. The company held numerous free seminars across the country to evangelize the new platform and tools. It offered effective incentives such as free training, free software, free tools, free t-shirts and other giveaways. It did this relentlessly for several years.

Microsoft held numerous online promotions to keep developers’ attention. It used the Beta program to gain feedback from its intended customers and to shape and optimize its products. When the Visual Basic .NET development tool was in Beta, its features were substantially changed based on feedback from users.

Many Alliances

Microsoft worked diligently to create alliances with online developer forums, and local user groups. The Microsoft .NET support area lists many dozens of support forums and news groups for developers to find community support. There are also several monthly .NET magazines publishing informative articles and news.

Strong Branding

Microsoft used branding as a means of pulling together disparate product lines and creating consistency. It re-branded parts of its pre - .NET product line even though these products have little in the way of .NET features. This branding has helped create the impression of special interoperability of the various .NET components.

Use of Standards

The company successfully leveraged multi-vendor standards such as XML, SOAP, WSDL to avoid the appearance of being too proprietary. This is somewhat ironic since the core of .NET is truly 100% proprietary and offers no substitutes once you adopt it. Although .NET makes liberal use of standards, it is essentially a lock-in mechanism for Microsoft products.

Free Runtimes

The company distributes the .NET runtime free to users running older versions of Windows. In this way .NET will support legacy operating systems. It also provides free, time-limited trial versions of virtually all of its .NET products. .NET will run side by side with the legacy products it replaces, reducing the migration risk. This means that companies and users can make a gradual migration and reduce the cost and risk of adopting .NET technologies

Clear Migration Strategy

Microsoft has provided a very clear migration strategy for developers. There has never been any question about the direction and detail of the migration path. Microsoft provides literally dozens of white papers discussing various migration options. This has greatly decreased any uncertainty and has greatly aided in corporations’ ability to do the necessary large scale planning for adoption and migration.

Some Failures and Criticisms of .NET

Security and Privacy Concerns Sink Passport

Passport was intended as a subscription web service Microsoft would sell to other companies. The services were intended to provide three key features. A single sign-on anywhere on the Internet, a secure and private electronic wallet function for internet purchases, and a secure and censored Kids’ passport service. According to an FTC commission investigating security and privacy concerns regarding Passport, Microsoft made false claims that:
  1. Passport made reasonable and appropriate means to insure security and confidentiality to protect personal information and credit card information of Wallet users.
  2. Purchases made using Wallet were more secure than purchases used without Wallet.
  3. Passport did not collect personal information other than that disclosed on its privacy statement.
  4. The Kids' Passport provided parental control over what content web sites could collect on their children.
Microsoft was found guilty and settled these charges with the FTC. The negative press leading up to these charges was a major cause for Passport's demise. In addition, numerous security breaches in the Passport web services gave a bad impression to potential corporate users. Passport was demoted in status to an internal product and later killed.

Confusing Name Changes

.NET has become a powerful brand with the full force of Microsoft marketing behind it. The first version of the enterprise server operating system known as Whistler was originally scheduled to ship in 2002 and was to be known as Window Server 2002. After a year of development and development delays, the product was provisionally renamed Windows .NET Server 2003 to emphasize the .NET branding. Additional development delays and changing internal schedules pushed a lot of the .NET managed code features out of that server release into the next release of Longhorn currently scheduled for 2006. The .NET brand was dropped from the product name and it was released as Windows Server 2003. While this server release has received widespread praise for the .NET 1.1 features it does have, its loss of the .NET branding created a lot of uncertainty among potential .NET adopters who were watching and waiting for the new .NET features.

Paul Randle, Microsoft’s server product manager said, “The aim of the name change is to clarify the messaging around the product. We felt that .NET was potentially confusing to customers because we were using it almost as a version name , whereas the .NET is an entity in its own right” This name flip-flopping provided fodder for Microsoft's rivals, eager to point out problems in .NET.

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