EDMOND, Wash., July 24 Two years into its quest to create a new kind of Internet-enabled computing it describes as .Net, Microsoft found it necessary to pause today and try to explain what it meant.
One day before its annual conference for financial analysts, the company assembled its top executives before several hundred reporters and industry analysts and engaged in a tutorial that one participant referred to as ".Net for Dummies."
The .Net brand (pronounced dot-net) is Microsoft's approach to a computer industry market called Web services. It has two basic ideas: to create standards that allow all sorts of information to be transmitted and acted upon in uniform ways, and to move the software that performs those actions to the Internet, where programs may now span multiple computers.
Microsoft is now locked in competition with small start-up companies that originally pioneered the Web services field, as well as with software and hardware giants like I.B.M., Oracle and Sun Microsystems, all of which are developing their own Web services.
Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, Bill Gates, said that he gave his company good marks so far for creating the basic software infrastructure for .Net, but acknowledged that the company had more work to do in explaining its mission.
"We still get people saying to us, 'what is .Net?' " said Mr. Gates. He said that the idea of the .Net infrastructure was clear, but acknowledged that the company had not created a clear view of what it intended for its customers. Many customers have yet to accept Microsoft's contention that computer software should be subscribed to as a Web-based service rather than purchased as a product they own and use, as most is today.
Jim Allchin, one of the company's top vice presidents, acknowledged the shift in focus in the industry from personal computers to plumbing, and bemoaned the difficulty of getting Microsoft's traditional consumers to care about its new vision.
"It's hard to get sexy about protocols," he said. "It really is about plumbing and concrete and protocols."
Moreover, the challenge that Microsoft faces in explaining and promoting a new style of computing that is intended to harness millions of disparate large and small computers is complicated by a growing consensus in the computer industry that few new software ideas will be realized until large corporate customers resume spending on the infrastructure of information technology.
Mr. Gates took some time in his review of the company's technology to recalibrate the industry's expectations about how quickly its .Net strategy will take effect.
"Phase 1 is essentially behind us, with things that went well and not so well," he said. "This is a long-term approach. These things don't happen overnight."
Microsoft sketched out an abbreviated road map today of how it will introduce products that offer .Net capabilities. One example was a communications server program with the code name Greenwich that is intended to enable advanced multimedia conferencing features for desktop and hand-held computer users. Another example was the next version of the company's database product, SQL Server, named Yukon, which is intended to make it easier to manage distributed data.
Finally, a brief demonstration was given of Windows Media Center a PC-based television that is intended to bring .Net-style information to the television in the living room.
Mr. Gates indicated, however, that the company's software promised land would be a new version of its Windows operating system with the code name Longhorn, which is still at least two years off.
Microsoft also warned today that the era of "open computing," the free exchange of digital information that has defined the personal computer industry, is ending.
The company is trying to influence an industry consortium called the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance, which has been trying to create a new standard that will build a cryptographic key system into future personal computers.
The idea has been challenged in the past by both civil liberties and consumer groups, who argue that it could potentially undercut privacy and intellectual property fair-use rights.