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Microsoft .NET framework: Still viable in the cloud computing age?

When Microsoft .NET launched in 2003, mobile and cloud computing didn't exist. Today, with dozens of development tools and languages built for the cloud, can .NET stay relevant?

The Microsoft .NET framework celebrates its 15th birthday on Feb. 13, 2017. Much has changed during that time. Launched just four months after the October 2001 debut of Windows XP, .NET and its Visual Studio application development environment could not have anticipated cloud and mobile computing, where connected internet of things and smart devices are forecast to top 50 billion by 2020. Since then, dozens of competing application development environments, programming languages, device types and operating systems -- iOS and Android -- have flooded the marketplace.

To explain how Microsoft is working to advance the .NET platform for the cloud and mobile age, Omar Khan, Microsoft's general manager of developer platforms, agreed to an exclusive interview with SearchCloudApplications. In this first of two parts, he discussed the overall .NET ecosystem and Microsoft's philosophy about how the framework fits into the modern world of cloud, mobile, iOS and Android. In part two, Khan takes a deeper dive into new features and technologies of specific products, including Xamarin, TypeScript and SQL Server.

We live in the cloud and mobile age, driven largely by Android, iOS and Linux. How is the Microsoft .NET framework staying relevant?

Omar KhanOmar Khan

Omar Khan: From the outset, .NET was about empowering developers. It was developed more than 15 years ago in the age of desktop computing, where Windows was dominant. We then saw the market move to more heterogeneous systems in both the web/cloud and mobile/devices. We knew that we needed to innovate and expand .NET to compete in the modern age of cloud computing -- at hyperscale, as well as incredibly small devices and IoT [internet of things].

Doesn't that suggest a complete reformulation of .NET?

Khan: Yes, we embarked on a journey to modernize .NET. Over two years ago, Microsoft open-sourced the platform. .NET Core is a cross-platform, open, modular platform that we believe will take .NET into the next 15 years, and we're building it with a lot of help from the community. It's specifically designed with performance and small footprint in mind -- perfect for containerized microservices and scalable web and cloud applications that run on Windows, Linux and macOS. We released version 1.0 of the runtime and libraries end of June 2016.

There's more to the Microsoft .NET framework and ecosystem than just the new .NET Core. What about these other aspects?

Khan: There is still a lot of innovation going on with the .NET framework, the well-known framework for building Windows applications -- the same innovation that goes into the compilers, languages and runtime components that benefit all .NET implementations.

The Microsoft .NET framework seems to garner little mind share these days. What is Microsoft doing to help keep the platform top of mind with developers and architects who see a steady stream of new tools and languages conceived for cloud and mobile?

Khan: .NET has a strong and loyal base that has been growing steadily, as we've taken .NET to the open source development community. In fact, even the .NET Foundation has seen increasing interest, with Google, Red Hat, JetBrains, Samsung and Unity participating in the Technical Steering Group.

Is that a leading indicator for .NET Core?

Khan: We find those who try .NET Core love it. We're starting to see a big uptick in downloads of .NET Core. What's exciting, according to a survey people can take on the website, is that 40% are telling us they are totally new to .NET. Now, it's about awareness. We're seeing good traction in online and in-person code schools and universities that now are looking at .NET because it's open source and cross-platform.

In our labs, .NET Core is eight times faster than Node.js and three times faster than Go.
Omar Khangeneral manager of developer platforms, Microsoft

How widespread is actual use of the Microsoft .NET framework for developing applications?

Khan: We have more than 12.7 million downloads of Visual Studio 2015, the most downloaded version of Visual Studio ever. We also have a lot of momentum in the open source community. The .NET Core repos on GitHub are seeing over 60% of the contributions coming from people outside Microsoft. More than 24,000 developers from 1,600 companies have contributed to .NET Core.

Given that developers and architects have numerous platform and framework options available, what kinds of applications benefit most from being built on the Microsoft .NET framework?

Khan: .NET always keeps developer productivity in mind. With modern languages and syntax, world-class development tools and a large community, we want you to be able to build anything, build it fast, build it reliably and iterate quickly. Xamarin technology makes .NET development easy for a multitude of device OSes, like iOS, Android and Windows. .NET Core is well-suited for building high-performance, cross-platform microservices, websites, cloud applications, cross-platform libraries and console apps. We're serious about performance. In our labs, .NET Core is eight times faster than Node.js and three times faster than Go. And we're working with TechEmpower to be part of their benchmarks for Round 13.

Joel Shore is news writer for TechTarget's Business Applications and Architecture Media Group. Write to him at [email protected] or follow @JshoreTT on Twitter.

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