Microsoft jilts Java tool

Forced by the courts Microsoft to adopt pure Java in its products, Microsoft may be ready to jilt its own Java tool, Visual J++ 6.0 - in favour of an alternate C++-like object development model tightly aligned with Windows 2000 and the forthcoming Component Object Model+ (COM+) environment. But some analysts say such a strategy would be very risky.

Just months ago, Microsoft professed love for Java-the-language, but jeered at Java-the-platform." Now that a court ruling has forced Microsoft to adopt pure Java in its products, the company may be ready to jilt its own Java tool, Visual J++ 6.0.

Sources say the company is seriously considering dropping further development of Visual J++, which was updated last quarter as part of Visual Studio 6, and is instead working on an alternate C++-like object development model tightly aligned with Windows 2000 and the forthcoming Component Object Model+ (COM+) environment.

Microsoft will not go so far as to say it is dropping Visual J++, but company officials do warn that the outcome of the lawsuit between the company and Sun Microsystems over Java purity may not make "innovation" around Java worthwhile.

"Java is under serious constraint and uncertainty over how any vendor can innovate around it, whether it's our tools or any other. We have to determine if that uncertainty is acceptable," said Greg Leake, lead product manager for Visual Studio. "It depends on the lawsuit. I can't speculate further than that."

For its next generation of tools, however, Microsoft is building a Java-like development model, code-named COOL (C++ object oriented language), that brings COM+ support to C++ developers, Leake said.

"It makes C++ programming simpler. We like Java-the-language because it is simple -- and simpler than C++ -- but there has to be ways to make that easier," Leake said. "Can we not take the things that are wonderful about C++ and marry them with an easier model?"

The COOL model is dependent on COM+, due out with Windows 2000 by the end of this year. But given that the oft-delayed Windows 2000 is very much a work in progress, Visual J++ 6.0 users should have plenty of time to get used to Java during the interim.

And aside from fitting Microsoft's aggressive posture of protecting its platform and APIs, the idea of abandoning Java this late in the game for another object model has little merit, analysts said.

"Creating a pseudo-C++ or alternatively easy object-oriented language would be a disaster. There is just too much support for Java for Microsoft to entice people away from it," said Dave Kelly, an analyst at the Hurwitz Group, in Framingham, Mass.

"Microsoft has to think carefully about what it's doing. It could alienate its enterprise customers, who our research indicates are very interested in Java," said Phil Costa, an analyst at the Giga Information Group, in Cambridge, Mass.

Nevertheless, there are many reasons to believe that if Microsoft loses its suit with Sun, Java will no longer be supported by the software giant, and the stage will be set for the new COOL model to take its place.

Earlier this month, Microsoft asked District Court Judge Ronald H. Whyte, who is presiding over the Sun suit, whether Microsoft can distribute an independently developed technology that performs "the same or similar functions" as Java.

Whyte has yet to rule on the request, but it demonstrates a clear intent to pursue COOL, Costa said.

"Indications are that they are moving away from the Sun version of Java; they've pulled Java from other products, which means they will probably pull it from the core technologies," Costa said.

Another indication Microsoft is abandoning its Java efforts is that it has not announced plans to update or upgrade Visual J++ 6.0 or its other Java implementations to comply with the Java 2 specification, which arrived from Sun in December.

"Microsoft's original strategy was to protect its installed base against the onslaught of Java and maintain its Windows clientele. When they lost the court [preliminary injunction] it took their product strategy and thwarted it," said Tom Dwyer, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group, in Boston.

Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Wash., is at www.microsoft.com.

Bob Trott contributed to this article.

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