What Is .NET
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Most current applications involve working with databases, normally more than one. ADO.NET is the data access component of the .NET Framework and includes built-in providers for SQL Server, ODBC, OLEDB, as well as Oracle.
Windows forms are the .NET Framework method for building desktop-based applications. Windows Forms are simply a managed wrapper over the native Windows API, this means that you can write code for one version of Windows and it will run on other versions without issue all the way back to Windows 98 SE.
Windows forms applications do require the .NET Framework to run, which means that anyone who downloads your application, or any computer it is installed on, will need to also have the .NET Framework. The framework can be easily installed through Windows Update, and is completely free, but the download size can be troublesome for people with a slower connection.
ASP.NET is the part of the .NET Framework dedicated to building web applications. Using ASP.NET you can build everything from a small starter website to enterprise-level web applications. ASP.NET allows you to write web applications without the need for a scripting language, everything can be written in your .NET language of choice.
Since ASP.NET applications are simply rendering HTML for the browser, there is no requirement for the .NET Framework on the client. Chances are you have used a number of sites that have been written in ASP.NET and you might not even have known it.
With ASP.NET Web Services Microsoft has created a number of time-saving features to make it easy to quickly write and expose web services from your application. Just like the rest of .NET, ASP.NET Web Services can be written in any .NET language. Through the use of the Web Services Extensions (free download from Microsoft), you can also add support for the new and ever-growing list of WS-* specifications to your ASP.NET Web Services.
One of the benefits of the .NET Framework is the great tools that are available to the .NET developer. Visual Studio has long been considered one of the premier IDEs on the market and does a lot to increase developer productivity when working with the framework. There are also a large number of open source tools available for .NET, including many that mimic the tools available on other platforms. Some of these include nUnit for unit testing, nAnt for building projects, nCover for testing code coverage, nHibernate for object persistence, and much more.
This November, Microsoft will launch .NET 2.0, the first major revision of the .NET Framework. With this revision .NET will grow to include a large amount of new functionality, not just in ASP.NET, Windows Forms and the base library, but also with the addition of support for new language features like generics to the runtime. Microsoft has shown its commitment to this platform and will continue to build upon .NET for years to come. (There is already some public information available on the next version of .NET, which is code-named Orcas.)
James Avery has been programming with Microsoft technologies for the last 7 years and has been working with .NET since the second beta release.
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