Lukewarm response to Microsoft's J# plan

Microsoft may have missed the boat with Visual J# beta release, the newest tool in its development arsenal, which it launched...

Microsoft may have missed the boat with Visual J# beta release, the newest tool in its development arsenal, which it launched last week.

The tool is aimed at Java development on Windows platforms but some developers say they have already resorted to other options, others say it is too limited for their use while some don't want to be tied to Microsoft's .Net technology.

Houston-based United Space Alliance (USA), which conducts space operations for NASA, is one company that has already dealt with the problem J# was designed to solve. To build an equipment and parts stowage application for the International Space Station, US and Russian developers chose WebGain's VisualCafe Java tool, but are running the Web-based application on Microsoft's Windows NT.

"We're not a dedicated Java shop, but we couldn't use [Microsoft's] Visual J++ because it's not a standard implementation of Java," said Frank Wood, space operations computing team leader at USA. "We got the impression that Microsoft and Java are mutually exclusive."

Wood said NASA couldn't change its hardware installation, which had passed strict space-requirements testing, and Russian engineers insisted on a standards-based development tool. Using WebGain's tool was the best alternative, he said, even though it is not optimised for Windows NT.

Microsoft claims that J# (pronounced "J sharp") will tackle such problems. The tool, released for beta-testing last week, allows developers to write native .Net applications and services using Java language syntax. But as Tony Goodhew, Visual J# product manager at Microsoft, pointed out, the new tool isn't Java.

"This is not about trying to develop some tool that supports some second-generation legacy Sun technology," he said. "This is about giving Java language developers the ability to build great XML Web services on the .Net platform."

Microsoft last January settled a long-standing lawsuit with Sun Microsystems by paying Sun $20 million and agreeing to several conditions. The settlement barred Microsoft from using Sun's Java technology; Microsoft discontinued its Visual J++ tool at that time.

Using Visual J#, developers can create code that compiles into Microsoft Intermediate Language and runs in .Net environments. The beta version supports Windows 2000, but Goodhew said the final version, scheduled for release in the middle of next year, will support all Microsoft operating systems from Windows NT forward. The .Net technology is expected to be available by the end of 2001. But rather than wait, several users are going forward with non-Java third-party development tools for Microsoft operating systems.

F-16 maker Lockheed Martin has built its internal radar-simulation application with Eiffel object-oriented tools from Interactive Software Engineering, said Robert Morimizu, manager of radar modelling simulations at the defence contractor. The application runs on both Windows NT and Sun's Solaris.

"Going to C# or J# or any .Net language is not ideal to us because our environment includes investments in Solaris machines. We didn't want to get stuck down a dead end," Morimizu said. "We didn't choose Java because of speed and performance issues."

Although Visual J# aims to fill the void left by Visual J++, developers said a tool that focuses on .Net alone won't bring them back.

"Microsoft realises that Java is out there, and they want to regain some of that development base," said Richard Kandetzki, director of software development at Kaman, a military helicopter maker in Bloomfield, Conneticut.

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