Critical Section

I Don't Get .Net

Wednesday,  03/19/03  02:27 PM

Hello, my name is Ole, and I don't get .Net.

If you know what .Net is, and can explain it to a reasonably intelligent software engineer, please send me email.  I will be so happy, and you will become famous; I promise to post your explanation with full attribution right here, on this website, for everyone to see (my 7 regular visitors).

Microsoft created this concept they call "dot-net", but nobody seems to have a good handle on what it is.  In fact, nobody even seems to know how to spell it, is it ".Net" or "dot-net" or "DotNet"?

This has to be one of the worst names for something ever.  How many names can you think of which begin with a period?  Do you think everyone missed out on the potential for starting names with a period?  Not to mention, there is already such a thing as ".net", it is a top-level Internet domain.  (Generally used by ISPs, for example, my service provider is Pacific Bell, and their domain name is  Strangely, the Microsoft "dot-net" doesn't seem to have anything to do with the Internet ".net". 

It isn't even clear what category .Net fits into, let alone what it is.  Here are some possibilities:

  • Is it a product?  If so, where do I buy it?  What does it do for me? 
  • Is it an architecture?  If so, where is it documented?  What does it do for me?
  • Is it a software technology?  If so, how do I use it?  What does it do for me?

Microsoft has a .net website, which features a page called What is .NET?  Unfortunately this page is misnamed, it does not explain what .NET is (visit it and see).  You would think a couple of paragraphs on this page would be helpful, but apparently the secret must be kept.

I'm not the only one who is confused.  Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer explains:

 "One question might be, and I'll be as direct as I can be about this, what is .Net?  Unlike Windows, where you could say it's a product, it sits in one place, it's got a nice little box.  In some senses, it's a very good question." - July 2002

Well, that was a good effort, but apparently there were some people like me who still didn't get it, so later Steve tried again:

"It's about connecting people to people, people to information, businesses to businesses, businesses to information, and so on.  That is the benefit." - October 2002

Believe it or not, this did not clear things up for me.  Apparently I was not alone, because several Microsoft engineers put together a website called GotDotNet.  (It is at, not to be confused with  If you visit this website, don't expect to find an explanation.  Maybe these people really "got" dot-net, but they appear unwilling to share the secret.

Last July at ".Net briefing day", Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was asked "what is .Net".  That was the question, and here was his answer:

"We don't have the user-centricity.  Until we understand context, which is way beyond presence -- presence is the most trivial notion of context."

I just don't get it.

[ Later: Okay, well, maybe I'm Starting to Get .NET... ]

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