What is Microsoft’s .NET Framework?
To digress for a moment, if you had to explain a railway system your description would start with the trains and their passengers, then there would be security, safety, track infrastructure and maintenance. My point is that just a railway is a complex system with many parts, so with .NET Framework, you will find a web of interconnected services.
I will let you into a secret, for a year and half .NET confused me. The break through came when I uncoupled the name .net, from the strategy .net. It gradually dawned on me that .net was really one big library of components. Framework meant an outline, a skeleton, or perhaps scaffolding best describes the role of .Net Framework.
Here is a break down of the .NET components
- Client – Server (Classic technology duo)
- Server – Server Links (Windows 2003 web servers providing the backbone)
- Service – Service connections (Text, voice, images)
- Client – Client (The whole point is to connect people through a range of devices)
- XML – (Powerful tag mark-up language that glues it all together)
My first thought about the word .NET was – NET in computing NETWORK. Then I realised how clever Microsoft has been with the name because it also implies a net-like a fishing net or a net framework. Once I absorbed this concept then the significance of .NET slowly dawned. Microsoft provides robust and efficient elements which developers glue together with extra instructions to build applications.
Next I began to make connections. Making client server technology work over LANs has been part of my day to work for decades. The new factor with .NET is the range of clients, Laptops, PDA, the latest Phones specialist devices only just in development. How do they make these connections I wondered? Then I saw the Web technology and XML providing the glue. What I have learnt about XML is that it is a powerful tag language to organize, present and enhance HTML data.
Then I saw uses for Client to Client connections especially with phones. I have seen people sending pictures, as well as text and voice messages.
I could also see the importance of Server to Server connections and within that the role of Service to Service connections like messaging. Then the word servers came to the forefront of my mind and I realised the part that the Web ‘flavour’ of Windows 2003 Server can play in .NET, IIS, email and databases.
Next I looked at related technologies, Active Server Pages hence ASP.NET and .NET Framework. Also Active Directory has numerous roles including security, configuring user properties and a search mechanism for objects.
Perhaps you have used online banking services, if so then you can probably see the power of these integrated services. You can transfer money and shop online with just a browser, think what more you could do if the clients were using Excel or Work XP.
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Evolution of .NET Framework
In the XP and Windows Server 2003 era you had to download and install .Net Framework, but with the advent of Vista and Server 2008 .Net Framework is build-in, you just add it as ‘Feature’.
Old-timers say ‘Wait until version 3 before you adopt any new software’. Big changes in version 3.0 highlighted the wisdom of this sage advice.
.NET Framework 3.0 added these four new components:
Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF): A new user interface subsystem and API based on XML and vector graphics. (Formerly called Avalon)
Windows Communication Foundation (WCF): A service-oriented messaging system which allows programs to interoperate locally or remotely. Similar to web services. (Formerly called Indigo)
Windows CardSpace: A software component which securely stores a person’s digital identities. Another benefit is a unified interface for choosing the identity for a particular transaction, such as logging in to a website. (Formerly called InfoCard)
Windows Workflow Foundation (WF): Enables you automation and integrated transactions using workflows. See more on PowerShell workflow.
Version Summer 2008: .Net Framework 3.5 SP1 (Arrowhead)
Latest Version Summer 2011: .Net Framework 4.
Connecting Applications – The vision
To finish this section, here is a real example.
Suppose you use a stock inventory system, on its own it would be useful, but limited. What if you connected your inventory system to your accounting system, now it gets more interesting. The result is, whenever you sell something, your inventory and your cash flow can be tracked in one step. This dream can become reality thanks to XML, web servers and intelligent clients. The connections can be made easily using Web services, regardless of the operating system that the application is using.
Summary of .Net Framework
Once I realized Microsoft were dropping the name .net from their servers, for example .NET server became Windows Server 2003, I could concentrate on what was left a .NET family of components. The framework meant a skeleton of tried and tested snippets of code that we could build into applications.
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