In 2002, the “digital information age” began, surpassing traditional analog information in size. As per a study by Deutsche Bank Research, the global software market was worth 190.1 billion euros in the same year. It was also the year when the .NET Framework was launched, aiming to fulfill the global developer need for a software development framework that simplifies the application-building process. On its 20th birth anniversary this month, it is safe to say that .NET indeed redefined how applications are built.
The Redmond tech giant, Microsoft, began developing the .NET Framework under the name “Next Generation Window Services” in the late 1990s. The idea was to create a framework based on managed code that can be executed in a runtime environment, enhancing the development experience, and reducing the burden on developers in handling security operations, active memory management, and other low-level efforts that bothered them.
The first beta version of the framework was announced in 2001, and on 13 February 2002, the .NET Framework was finally launched to the world. Over the years, with many iterations, from .NET 1.0 to the current.NET6.0, the framework has matured well and continues to evolve to meet the changing demands of software developers.
Today, the .NET Framework, now known simply as .NET since its incarnation as .NET 5.0 in 2020 and subsequent iterations, continues to play a crucial role in driving software development activities and maintaining the day-to-day operations of modern applications and services. It supports developers in building modern, scalable, and high-performance desktop, web, cloud, mobile, IoT, and AI applications using the programming language of their choice. In fact, .NET supports more than 60 programming languages, of which only 11 are designed and developed by Microsoft. Prominent languages include C#, F#, Visual Basic, Boo, Cobra, Fantom, IronPython, and Oxygene, to name a few. Applications developed on .NET can be run on popular computing platforms such as Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android. The .NET ecosystem comprises a single common library, runtime, language compilers, and tools.
As we celebrate its two decades of serving our software needs, let us explore the evolution of .NET.
The .NET Framework – The First Baby Step
The first version of the .NET Framework only supported C#, which is a programming language for writing managed code that shares characteristics with C++. This language was introduced by Microsoft alongside the launch of the .NET Framework and was originally intended to serve only the Windows platform. The framework included a GUI library for desktop applications called WinForms, a framework for the web called ASP.NET, and a data access tool called ADO.NET. All of these components were driven by the Common Language Runtime (CLR) to compile and run managed codes. Additionally, it included the Framework Class Library (FCL), which grouped various functions using the Base Class Library (BCL), the network library, the numerics library, and others.
Subsequent iterations of the .NET Framework saw updates to the runtime, new desktop graphical systems such as WPF, and APIs for service-oriented applications like WCF.
The .NET CORE – Adapting to the Environment
In 2016, Microsoft expanded the capabilities of .NET CORE beyond a single platform and a limited number of programming languages by introducing a new cross-platform, cloud-friendly, and open-source version of the framework. This decision was driven by developers’ demand for a framework that could support them in building cross-platform applications using the language of their choice, while Microsoft could leverage a stronger .NET ecosystem.
Because it was an open-source platform, .NET CORE became popular among developers, who could access it at a lower price and with less risk. Moreover, the new version reduced competition by making project codes of other developers available for faster and easier application building. It’s no wonder .NET CORE quickly became the go-to framework for new .NET projects. Over time, Microsoft ported existing .NET Framework services to .NET CORE.
In 2016, Microsoft also introduced Xamarin, a tool for developing native mobile applications and Mac products. Initially developed by Microsoft, Xamarin became the open-source component of .NET CORE.
Continuing its commitment to transparency between the product team and the community, Microsoft open-sourced the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Windows Forms, and WinUI frameworks in December 2018.
.NET 5 and .NET 6 – The Survival of the Fittest
In 2020, Microsoft released .NET 5, which combined .NET Framework and .NET Core into a single version of .NET, reducing competition. The latest version of .NET is loaded with features to develop applications on various platforms such as Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS, watchOS, Android, tvOS, etc. It includes new APIs, language features, and runtime capabilities, along with ASP.NET Core, Xamarin, Entity Framework Core, WPF, WinForms, and ML.NET.
In 2021, with the launch of Visual Studio 2022, .NET 6 delivered the final parts of the unified ecosystem. This unified platform allows building software across cloud, browser, IoT, mobile, and desktop environments with the same .NET libraries, SDK, and runtime. Multi-platform app UI (MAUI) is a cross-platform framework for building native desktop and mobile applications with C# and XAML, which will be a big part of the upcoming .NET 7. It answers the question of how Microsoft will deliver a common UI across different platforms, including the web. The first preview of .NET 7 shipped in February 2022, commemorating the 20th anniversary of .NET.
Leading the Software Development Ecosystem
.NET is a vast ecosystem that extends beyond Microsoft, and its influence is felt across the software development industry. With new features being announced at events hosted by Red Hat and VMware, as well as .NET-specific conferences, it is clear that the framework is ubiquitous. Every release has attracted a diverse group of developers, expanded its user base, and solidified its success. The developer community has played a crucial role in the platform’s growth, and today, there are over five million .NET developers worldwide. Despite its evolution over the past twenty years, .NET remains true to its original vision of transforming developers’ lives.