Is it a single program? Is it a Web site? Is it an illiterate Cornishman s fishing implement?
Erm, no. So, what exactly is .NET?
Officially speaking, .NET is the XML Web services platform, a way of working that allows you to create software as a service. It s a Microsoft vision based on distributed computing , the dream of sharing information over the Internet, no matter what operating system, device, or programming language you re using.
According to our favorite software giant, this .NET plan covers five core areas, not all of which have yet been fulfilled:
server products (such as Windows 2000/2003 and SQL Server)
foundation services (such as Passport and Alerts)
devices (such as the Pocket PC)
experiences (such as MSN and Office .NET)
The thing is, to developers, .NET really means that first item on the list ” development products ”and this part of their vision boils down to two key pieces of software: the .NET Framework and Visual Studio .NET.
The free .NET Framework is really the heart of the whole .NET idea, the whole distributed dream. It s a program that sits on top of your operating system and basically runs your .NET applications (whether regular Windows applications or Web sites). It handles program memory for you. It provides a store of functionality in its base classes. It can talk to remote computers using XML. It does all the plumbing you really don t want to get involved in: it abstracts, it hides complexity, and it just works. Yet, behind it all, the truth is that the .NET Framework is simply a clever Windows upgrade .
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You can imagine the .NET Framework as a smart runtime for your programs. And, if you don t have it installed, you can t run any .NET applications. The .NET Framework is distributed with Windows 2003 onward, and there s a great pressure on Microsoft to make any later revisions backward compatible (the current version is 1.1). Incidentally, you ll hear some people talk about companies creating versions of the .NET Framework that will run on other platforms. They re being slightly optimistic: right now it s available for Windows only.
Next up, you have Visual Studio .NET, which is quite simply the next version of Visual Studio. Two versions of Visual Studio .NET have been released so far: version 2002, and version 2003 ( codename "Everett"). Both of these play home to languages such as Visual C# .NET, Visual C++ .NET, and, of course, Visual Basic .NET (VB .NET).
Of these languages, C# is the real newbie. Rumored to be Bill Gates .NET love child, the syntax looks very similar to that of VB .NET (more on that in Chapter 9). After that, we have C++ .NET, which is essentially the old C++ with extensions to tie it in with the .NET Framework. Everett users will also see J#, Microsoft s bid to port Java developers to the world of .NET. And finally we have VB .NET: the next version of Visual Basic, the product most important to us.
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Wondering where ASP.NET fits into it all? Well, ASP.NET isn't a language. It's simply a term that covers Internet projects and refers to a bunch of class libraries in the .NET Framework. You may utilize these classes in VB .NET, C#, or any other .NET language. We'll learn more about ASP.NET later.
Now, before you can start using VB .NET, you need to get the .NET Framework and Visual Studio .NET installed onto your machine. If you haven t done that already, follow the guidelines in Appendix I. When you re ready, let s move on for our first glimpse of the new development environment.