XML and the .NET Framework
Microsoft's .NET initiative has its origins in the increasing importance of the Web in almost all areas of application development. Previous development tools, exemplified by Visual Studio version 6.0, were designed for the needs of a decade ago, when the ruling paradigm was applications that were stand-alone or were distributed over a local area network (LAN). As the need for Web-related capabilities grew, ad hoc solutions were crafted as enhancements to existing tools. Because the Web capabilities were not built into the development tools from the beginning, however, there were inevitable problems with deployment, maintenance, and efficiency.
Things are different with .NET. The .NET Framework provides a comprehensive set of classes that are designed for just about any programming task you can imagine. From the very beginning, the Framework was designed to integrate Web-related programming functionality. The Framework can be used by any of Microsoft's three programming languages: Visual Basic, C++, and C# (pronounced "C sharp"). The new releases of Visual Basic and C++ will be familiar to anyone who has used earlier versions, although there are numerous changes to accommodate the .NET architecture. C# is new language that is similar to Java in many respects, although there are significant differences between the two. Some observers consider C# to be a Java replacement made necessary because legal problems have forced Microsoft to stop supporting Java (or Visual J++, as Microsoft's version of Java was called).
For the XML developer, .NET was designed to support XML from the ground up. There are no add-ons required, such as the MSXML Parser or the SOAP Toolkit. Everything you need is provided by the Framework. Please remember that as of this writing, the .NET Framework is a beta product. It is believed that the XML support is fairly stable, but it is possible that there will be some changes before the final product is released (which may happen by the time you read this).