The only constant is change, and nowhere is that maxim truer than in the software development arena. It seems that by the time you've mastered one technology, you have to put all that knowledge aside and move on to the next "big thing." And the Microsoft .NET Framework certainly heralds big changes to come in the Microsoft software development world.

Microsoft says that the move to .NET will be more significant than the adoption of Windows. Although Microsoft tends to exaggerate (how many "bet the company" strategies can you think of?), my experiences with Visual Studio.NET and the .NET Framework suggest that this time Microsoft is right on the money. Current products in the Microsoft toolset, such as Visual Basic (VB) and Visual C++ (VC++), lack a strong Web-development orientation. Even Visual InterDev and Active Server Pages (ASP)—although great tools—don't have the type of enterprise-oriented Web-development features that Java provides. However, this story is about to change.

Visual Studio.NET and the .NET Framework promise to revolutionize Microsoft's Web-development capabilities. For example, the .NET Framework brings a wealth of enterprise-oriented features to the table, including more robust xcopy-style deployment, the ability to support side-by-side execution of DLLs, deep XML integration, multilanguage inheritance, and robust versioning. In addition, the new .NET Web Services will let any Web server expose its resources through a programmatic interface, essentially extending the component-based programming model to the Web. By submitting .NET Common Language Runtime (CLR) to the ECMA, the European association for standardizing information and communication systems, Microsoft will let the industry incorporate support for the CLR and the .NET Framework even on non-Windows platforms. Whether this incorporation will actually happen remains to be seen, but even if it doesn't, the .NET Framework will put Microsoft's Web development platform on an even standing with Java-based enterprise development tools such as IBM's WebSphere and Sun Microsystems' iPlanet.

The new .NET Framework offers many compelling reasons for an enterprise to shift to the .NET programming model. Don't get left at the starting gate. ADO.NET sits at the top of the list of most important new .NET technologies. Following close behind are ASP.NET, VB.NET, and to a lesser degree C#. To get started with these new technologies, read Microsoft's beta .NET documentation at http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp. For important hands-on experience, download a beta copy of Visual Studio.NET and the .NET Framework from http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/nextgen/beta.asp. Technical conferences covering .NET this year include Tech Ed, the Microsoft Professional Developer's Conference, the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) conference, and our own SQL Connections conference. And, of course, SQL Server Magazine will continue to provide a variety of articles, such as Dino Esposito's "ADO.NET: A Bridge to the Future," page 39, to help you learn more about .NET technologies and tools.