Microsoft, Netscape war continues with languages

The next battle in the Microsoft/Netscape war for the World Wide Web could be over scripting languages.

The next battle in the Microsoft/Netscape war for the World Wide Web could be over scripting languages, namely Visual Basic for Applications versus JavaScript.

Scripting languages give developers a way to extend, link and customise applications. But developers say there are too many scripting languages for too many applications, forcing them to constantly learn new ones. Not surprisingly, Microsoft and Netscape are now out to snare the corporate software developer by getting the big application developers to support their respective scripting languages in end-user products, including 'Net-enabled tools.

So far, progress has been slow. Currently, Visual Basic for Applications, which includes Visual Basic Script, resides in only a handful of Microsoft applications, including Excel and Project. But just last month, Microsoft began licensing its Visual Basic Application Edition 5.0 with Internet ActiveX controls to software developers to embed in applications. This scheme would turn these packages into customizable development platforms for anyone accustomed to Visual Basic.

Eight companies, including Adobe Systems, NetManage and SAP, say they have licensed the Visual Basic Application Edition.

Netscape is seeking to garner the same industry support for its scripting language. In fact, the company is now poised to announce licensees for its JavaScript, sources say. But unlike Microsoft, Netscape does not intend to charge for embedding JavaScript in end-user applications, sources say. Netscape already includes JavaScript in its Navigator browser and LiveConnect tool kit. JavaScript is generally used for creating Java-enabled HTML pages.

Can JavaScript and Visual Basic go head-to-head? Some developers wonder. "There is a need for a scripting language across applications, and right now, Microsoft and Netscape are forging a way to do that," says Grady Booch, chief scientist at Santa Clara, California-based programming toolkit maker Rational Software. "But for Netscape, the two challenges are how do they break what they're facing in the Visual Basic juggernaut and how do they make money if it's free."

Programmers are unduly burdened with having to learn different scripting languages, and there is a need for a general-purpose, cross-application scripting standard, says Philip Meese, a developer at New York-based Mercury Technologies, which has been writing Java code for financial institutions.

Either Visual Basic or JavaScript could potentially become the lingua franca of scripting -- though JavaScript seems more clearly in line with the cross-platform nature of Java, Meese says. However, the way that application vendors cast their votes will count for a lot, he says.

Some vendors are interested in JavaScript. "As far as Oracle is concerned, the theme is open, open, open," says Milton Howard, senior marketing manager at Oracle. "And JavaScript fits that description."

JavaScript is popular for Web sites, says David Smith, director of Internet strategy at Gartner Group. But in its current form, JavaScript is not as easy to use as Visual Basic, Smith says, and, therefore, may find it tough to win over MIS departments. He says JavaScript also seems to produce some very slow pages on the Web.

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