Microsoft still says its .Net initiative won't appear until 2002 or 2003, but that didn't stop chief executive officer Steve Ballmer from selling it yesterday.

"The goal absolutely is to get as quickly as we can to a Windows .Net," said Ballmer of Microsoft's plan to turn its software into services delivered via the Internet.

Ballmer addressed the European IT Forum 2000 in Monaco yesteraday via a satellite link - albeit one plagued with glitches and a missing video portion.

".Net is, in some sense, the future for Microsoft," Ballmer said. "Windows doesn't go away; the PC doesn't go away, but we needed a platform to reflect the reality of the Internet."

The .Net platform, using XML technology, is meant to allow developers to create their own applications to run via the Internet on multiple platforms, such as PCs, mobile devices, and TVs.

Ballmer stressed that the .Net "building blocks" will be accessible by other operating systems, as well as future versions of Windows. "We've always had a strong level of interoperability with non-Microsoft platforms," he said, prompting some chuckles in the audience.

".Net's a big change. It's a new thing. It's a lot of work. It's a lot of effort," Ballmer said. "We have a future whether we succeed or not, but it's a lot more exciting future as we drive .Net forward and really make it a fundamental platform for the future."