Editor’s note: Alex Lekas is vice president of corporate communications for Advanced Internet Technologies, Inc. Local Tech Wire asked Lekas to offer an overview about the .NET event.

FAYETTEVILLE,Imagine changing your thermostat through a PDA while grocery shopping or at the kids’ ballgame, or pre-heating your oven via a cell phone on the drive home.

As technology evolves, these and other personal tasks could become routine while business functions simultaneously become more portable.

Microsoft is banking on its .NET application platform as the tool that will help make these possibilities into reality. The software giant is in Fayetteville this week for a three-day seminar on what it calls ‘the new generation of web services’. While marketing claims from Redmond usually elicit a raised eyebrow, the .NET initiative has certain features that increase its appeal to programmers and developers, and several dozen professionals are the audience for a series of live demonstrations.

Language-neutral platform

Unlike some other Microsoft initiatives, the .NET platform is designed to work and play well with others. For example, it is language-neutral, meaning code can be written in whatever language a developer chooses.

“When all languages are made equal, people like me can use the one we’re most comfortable with, and that improves productivity,” said Jon Rio, a programmer for hosting company AIT. “Removing the language barrier also makes collaboration easier since all developers don’t use the same code.”

As you might suspect, there are competitive pressures at work. Among the languages that are supported is Java, which was created by Sun for that company’s platform for developing new web applications. Microsoft created .NET as a counter in the battle for supremacy within the software development community. The animosity between the two companies may have cooled a bit now that they’ve settled a lawsuit and agreed to work together. Of course, Microsoft paying Sun $1.6-billion dollars as part of the agreement didn’t hurt, either.

None of that matters much to developers at the seminar, where the focus is on the practical use of the .NET platform, and how to create applications that can be accessed through mobile phones, PDA’s, and laptop computers. That’s increasingly important as businesses and individuals alike demand instant access to data along with the freedom of finding information without being tied to a desk. The software applications created are also designed to be interoperable, meaning the piece of code that powers one has to be work with the code of another. Looking again at the practical aspect, a travel agent would be able to easily combine the services of airlines, hotels, and rental car companies to pull together the best deal for their customers.

Implications beyond the network

As cited at the beginning, this initiative could have implications beyond the office. For instance, a ‘smart’ device such as a handheld computer or phone could be used to control household appliances or utilities. The software application would take into account the capabilities of each device. For instance, a laptop might show a map on the monitor and the user would make choices through mouse clicks, whereas a phone might allow for verbal or push-button commands.

For this week, however, Microsoft is hoping the futuristic capabilities of the .NET platform are a hook in convincing programmers to use it. The company is stressing factors like rapid development and flexibility as key points, and people like Jim Abner of Indianapolis are more interested in ease of use than brand name. “This makes code-writing much easier, plus it automates a large part of the process so you’re not typing in the same lines over and over,” said Abner. “The code seems much cleaner and it’s easier to edit.”

This is only the third such seminar the Microsoft has held on the East Coast in pushing implementation of the .NET platform. The company is hoping that through demonstrations and hands-on experimentation, it can sway developers.

“Participants aren’t just learning how to build .NET web projects but also how to incorporate pre-existing skills from platforms like ASP, PHP, and Java Script,” said Chris Villinger, a Microsoft product manager. “We’re hoping to win converts as attendees see how easy it is to go from concept to finished product.”

The evolution of technology will likely lead to the outcomes Microsoft foresees, though it’s not certain if .NET will be the mechanism that delivers them. Often, Microsoft has claimed to have built the better mousetrap only to have users discover that the real difference was a change in the cheese. With .NET, however, there is at least a grudging admission that reaching out to developers requires more than good marketing; it requires the integration of program languages and the ability for applications to interact with each other. Of course, you could change the thermostat or pre-heat the oven the old-fashioned way, but what’s the fun in that.

AIT: www.ait.com