Microsoft Turns, Slowly, to Face the Future

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In the domain name game, dot-nets are for when the dot-coms are already taken, so Microsoft's unveiling Thursday of .NET as the moniker for the makeover formerly known as Next Generation Windows Services may be just a highly touted reminder that Redmond is somewhat late to the Internet-based computing party. Then again, Microsoft has always been less about innovation than brute force — loudly stalking, then gradually overwhelming whoever got to that cutting edge first. And Bill Gates has found a new target.

"You could say this is a bet-the-company kind of thing," Gates told an audience at the unveiling, trying to make this thing sound somehow exciting. "Our entire strategy is being built around this." "This" is Gates' belated second to Larry Ellison's notion of web-based computing and the direction the tech action is supposedly heading: off your desktop and onto servers, Internet appliances, set-tops, stovetops and wristwatches. It's not new, and it's still years from being a viable business, but Gates must be happy just to have found some way to remind investors that Microsoft isn't just a company of rude lawyers.

Yep, these are heady days in Redmond, days when it's possible for Gates to think about the future without wincing. His case is headed to the Supreme Court on a likely round-trip ticket, Judge Jackson put all his conduct remedies on hold until the years of appeals are done, and the stock is back at 80. The .NET makeover is typical Microsoft — a slowfooted turn of the dinosaur to go where the lemurs are already headed. But the dinosaurs were big, powerful and ensconced. And they hung around for a long, long time.