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NET Fatigue

For those that missed it, Ali Kheyrollahi wrote a post describing his “commentary on the status of .NET” in which he concludes that .NET is a platform for small- to mid-size projects that represent a declining market that will soon die and argues for .NET to pivot. His tweet triggered a very long discussion and at least one blog post in agreement by Rob Ashton , which triggered another long Twitter dialogue . The subsequent discussions center a lot around .NET Core, ASP.NET Core, and all the craziness around the meanings (if any) of beta, RC, RTM, and whether breaking API changes are allowed in each of these various stages. I think it’s safe to say the general feeling outside Redmond is that .NET Core 1.0 RTM is really .NET Core 1.0 alpha 1, and developers are back to waiting for the third release committing to new platforms. (That’s certainly not an absolute.)

The root of this battle, however, appears to stem from bitterness across several boundaries:

  • Microsoft vs OSS (which has arguable improved by leaps and bounds)
  • Enterprise vs ___? (really just the poorly-named [“dark matter”]( http://www.hanselman.com/blog/DarkMatterDevelopersTheUnseen99.aspx ) vs not)
  • Web vs desktop
  • Windows vs cross-platform/Docker
  • Azure vs on-prem/other cloud
  • C# vs VB/F#/other
  • TFS + VS + NuGet vs alternative tool chain
  • fill-in-the-blank, e.g. SharePoint vs WordPress

Historically, Microsoft has set the tone, and most of their customers follow suit. In the past, Microsoft provided a lot of excellent tools to build applications quickly, and this was seen as a good thing. However, other platforms have stolen the leader role, leaving .NET to copy, borrow, and generally play catch-up. There are a few exceptions, but as can be seen above, most of those are typically given second fiddle and not promoted as well as they should.

I have been quite disappointed over the last year and a half to see how Microsoft managed their transition to OSS. With the exception of F# , a lot of the discussions around the new world of .NET Core have appeared to be a lot less about finding out what customers wanted and instead continuing to tell customers what they want. With the recent announcements about .NET Core 1.0 RTM, that seems to have been rectified to a large degree in that .NET Core will now have a significantly better chance to allow migration from (now) netstandard to netcore . I think this is one of the better moves Microsoft has made in the last few years.

Will this ultimately right the ship and ensure everyone currently using .NET remains aboard? I don’t know. Much like the recent post on JavaScript Fatigue , I think a lot of .NET developers are feeling .NET Fatigue and looking for something else. .NET Core was the future hope, and like it or not, the continuous breaking changes have broken the hopes of many. I gave up on caring at least six months ago. There are enough missing APIs that I can’t move to .NET Core any time soon, if ever.

In the F# community, several are looking for ways to cross-compile to other platforms. Fable compiles F# to JavaScript via Babel, and Dave Thomas did a bit of work to show how one might compile to Elixir . This isn’t restricted to F#, of course. Several projects exist to transform C# to JavaScript, and Xamarin has been transforming .NET code to iOS and Android apps for years.

This leads me to wonder whether the question behind the creation of .NET Core, which I think was something like “Can we make a tiny .NET that can run everywhere?” was the right question. Remember, .NET was created b/c Sun sued Microsoft for extending Java. A lot has changed since then. Java is now supported on Azure! While I think the CLR is arguably better than the JVM, I wonder whether a better solution might not have been to contribute toward the JVM and work toward merging the JVM and CLR. Perhaps Erlang/BEAM is the right target? WebAssembly all the things?

All of these are non-trivial. I’m not convinced any are good ideas. However, what if the right answer is somewhere along the lines of VS Code (or even VS with its Python, TypeScript, etc. tools), an editor for far more than Microsoft-owned platforms and languages.

Is .NET needed anymore?

What if C#, F#, and VB compilers were extended to target additional platforms, e.g. JVM, Erlang, etc? Would you care?

What if you could use TypeScript to build Windows applications rather than C#? Would you care? (For what it’s worth, I would rather write TypeScript than C#, so this is not a made up question.)

What if Visual Studio and VS Code focused on providing excellent tooling for traditionally CLI-driven tools in the JVM ecosystem and integrated seamlessly across the new Linux support coming in Windows 10? Would that impact you?

Is .NET Core a hope for the future, or yet another Silverlight- or Metro-like fad? Can it really succeed where Java failed? (NOTE: Erlang and node.js succeeded in cross-platform support, so it is possible.)

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