Many of us have seen the advertisements for .Net (pronounced dot net, if you've not been exposed to this), the next generation of computing for Microsoft. Few of us can probably explain what it is, although the ads could lead you to believe it stops short of being a cure for cancer, or something equally miraculous.

It will take some time for .Net to hit the market, although accounting software products for .Net, whatever they do different, are already appearing. When it does, most observers expects products, say the accounting software line from Microsoft Business Solutions, such as Great Plains Dynamics, eEnterprise, Solomon, and Navision Axapta and Attain will appear in a significantly different form.

But at the moment, what .Net is is less important than how Microsoft is going about promoting the platform. It is really not significant whether we understand the single-step computing for enterprises that the ads seem to promise. What is important is how Microsoft has been creating a demand for a product when nobody really knows what it does.

Of course, you may have noticed that the television advertising campaign for .Net, "One Degree of Separation," seems to have disappeared. One friend at Microsoft suggests that Bill Gates realizes that nobody understands the concept, and the campaign is being retooled. (Perhaps they should get Kevin Bacon as a spokesman.)

But in some ways, given how Microsoft does things, it’s not really important to understand the platform because we’ve seen this phenomenon before. During the build up of the campaign of the Microsoft SQL Server database engine, it was frequently remarked by resellers that many small businesses who had no possible use for SQL Server (at least at the time) were demanding it because Microsoft did such a good job of creating demand, that businesses who probably would have trouble explaining what the initials S-Q-L, stood for, were asking for it. (And if you can find 20 non-programmers who can explain what Structured Query Language actually means, I’d be surprised.)

My guess is that Microsoft learned this lesson well, whether with SQL Server or with other products. What we have been getting is a campaign that gives .Net customer recognition before it gets to the market. It makes the phrase itself familiar, and by making it familiar, it seems safer.

This campaign is also a lesson in good salesmanship. The commercials don’t sell technology. They promise solutions to complex problems. By the time .Net is ready for the market, and Microsoft can explain in more fully, the market will be quite ready for it.

Now all they have to do is make sure it lives up to expectations.


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