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Where Is .NET Headed?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I watched the dotNetConf .NET Open Source Panel last week. It was a bit disappointing to hear defeatism in the voices of OSS project leaders, because .NET’s future appears to rely entirely on the success of open source software for .NET. Here are a couple reasons:

1. The success of Windows Azure. Azure is now an amazing cloud platform for developers and is getting better every few weeks. Azure is also a business success with annual revenue topping $1 billion. That’s $1 billion with only a 20% share of a $6 billion dollar market – a market that is expected to grow to $30 billion in 4 years. As Azure continues to pick up market share it is not completely unthinkable to see it post a 15+ billion dollar year in 2018, which is getting into the same double-digit-billion-dollar-revenue neighborhood as Windows itself.

The documentation page for Azure makes it clear where the growth will come from:

Azure Strategy 

To paraphrase the above graphic, Microsoft doesn’t need legions of developers building frameworks and tools for Windows developers when they can have legions of programmers building tools and a cloud platform for all developers. Hadoop, Redis, NodeJS, RoR, Django, PHP, and the list goes on. Even if it doesn’t run on Windows, you can always spin up a ready made Azure virtual machine image with Ubuntu, CentOS, or SUSE.

I don’t think Azure needs a successful server-side .NET framework to be a success itself.

2. The Direction of Windows 8.

I still feel Window 8 carpet bombed .NET developers. There was secrecy and hearsay followed by the death of one XAML platform and the arrival of yet another slightly different XAML platform. People running a business based on desktop technology don’t know where to place their bets and the Windows division has always appeared hostile to the CLR. I’m not sure what this year’s Build and Windows Blue will bring, but I can only hope it offers some direction for businesses who build desktop business applications with managed code.

I don’t think Windows wants to see a successful client-side .NET framework.

Where Are We?

It feels as if Microsoft has shifted focus away from .NET, and with the focus goes resources and innovation. Much of the CLR and it’s associated assemblies and languages appear to be entering maintenance or refinement mode instead of advancing in new directions. Anyone building software on Microsoft’s .NET platform should see this as cause for concern.

Except …

The circle of  software loosely surrounding .NET is exploding. There are more server side framework choices for C# developers than ever before, and client side web programming has advanced rapidly over the last few years with open source projects like AngularJS, Backbone, Ember, and Meteor. Document databases like MongoDB and RavenDB and key-value stores like Redis are all available to managed code, and products like Xamarin are pushing C# and mono to new platforms. What I’ve listed is a small sampling of what is happening and it is all pretty amazing when you sit back and look at the bigger picture. 

Plus, if you already build solutions with ASP.NET MVC, Web Pages, the WebAPI, or the Entity Framework, you are already building software on top of open source projects that rely on other open source projects from the community. 

What To Do?

If your business or company still relies solely on components delivered to developers through an MSDN subscription, then it is past time to start looking beyond what Microsoft offers for .NET development so you won’t be left behind in 5 years. Embrace and support open source.

At least, that’s how I see things.