Dawn of the next Web battle

Microsoft is turning its big Visual Studio .net gun on Sun's Java in a bid to maintain its domination of the software developer's...

Microsoft is turning its big Visual Studio .net gun on Sun's Java in a bid to maintain its domination of the software developer's desktop

The next generation Web dawns on 13 February - if you believe in Microsoft. That is when Visual Studio .net will be launched at the VSLive! show in San Francisco and 150 satellite events around the globe.

It is not an unknown quantity: more than 3.5 million copies were distributed during the long beta test. As usual, serious developers will have been playing with the final code for nearly a month. But the launch will give Microsoft the chance to explain what it all means.

Visual Studio .net is, of course, a step on a road that leaves Windows behind. That is why the original name for .net - Next Generation Windows Services - was quietly buried and forgotten. What we used to call Martini computing is now Microsoft's mission statement: the intention to support any device, any time, anywhere.

Well, that is the theory. In practice, Visual Studio .net only runs on Windows, and one of its aims is to blow holes in another alternative to Windows: Sun's Java and Java 2 Enterprise Edition.

Java's main drawback is that its chief selling point is a dumb idea, whereas Visual Studio .net is a much better idea. The proposition that you have to write everything in one language is silly; the proposition that you can write in any language you like and the compiler will take care of it is much more appealing.

And while technically Sun could also have gone with a Microsoft Intermediate Language/Common Language Runtime approach, it cannot recall all the earlier hype.

There are other problems, too, such as Sun's failure to push Java's development at a fast pace. Perhaps it is simply unwilling to invest in something that does not make any money. Microsoft will not be in that position and will not make that mistake.

There's also Sun's failure to make Java truly open. Microsoft has already put C# through the European Computer Manufacturers Association standards process, and will not be slow to remind developers that it is less proprietary than Java.

Java is a much bigger threat to Microsoft's ownership of the software developer's desktop than GNU/Linux and Star Office are to the office desktop business. Do not imagine that small but vital real estate will be ceded without a fight.

Jack Schofield is computer editor of the Guardian

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