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Microsoft offers test versions of developer tools

The software giant ships a new test version of software tools as part of a strategy to make its existing software available over the Web using PCs and handhelds.

LAS VEGAS--Microsoft took a step closer Monday toward its plan to link its software more tightly to the Internet.

At the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas, Microsoft announced it has shipped a new test version of software tools in line with the company's new Internet software strategy.

The strategy is focused on making Microsoft's existing software available over the Web using traditional PCs and increasingly popular handheld devices such as cell phones and personal digital assistants. The company is attempting to entice software developers by creating tools for building Web-based software and services.

Microsoft on Monday shipped its first public test version of the next release of its development tools, called Visual Studio.Net. The package includes updates to programming languages Visual Basic, Visual C++, and the first version of C#, a new tool announced last summer. C# (pronounced C-sharp) is a Java-like software programming language intended to simplify building Web services using Microsoft software.

Microsoft in July released a test version of the new tools to developers attending its software developer conference in Orlando. The new, public test version is more complete than the previous version, said David Lazar, Microsoft's group product manager for .Net tools and services.

"We did a technology preview earlier, and this (new version) is obviously a lot closer to the final version," Lazar said.

The new test version is available as a free download on Microsoft's MSDN developer Web site. The company expects to release the final version in 2001, probably in the second half of the year, Lazar said.

As part of Monday's announcement, Microsoft said it has also shipped a test version of its .Net Framework, which includes a new engine that will allow software developers to use many types of programming languages to write Windows software.

The company also said it has formally submitted the C# language to an industry standards group, hoping to succeed where rival and Java creator Sun Microsystems has failed.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in his keynote speech Sunday said the company formally submitted the new language to an industry standards body called ECMA. The company in June had announced its plans to submit the technology to the standards body.

C# is similar to Java, a programming language that has long been considered a threat to Microsoft. Java is touted by Sun, IBM, Oracle and dozens of others as the language developers can use to write software that is compatible with all types of computers and operating systems. Microsoft has in the past steered developers to write software that runs only on Windows.

Sun had hoped to turn Java over to the same standards body, but withdrew its proposal last year, Comdex 2000: Back to the future fearing that it would lose control of Java's evolution. Sun has been gradually releasing its control over Java, and has been reforming the Java Community Process, a standardization process with rules set by Sun.

The test version of the Visual Studio suite will not include a development tool for Java. Microsoft previously sold a Java tool, called Visual J++, that is part of its existing Visual Studio tools package.

Microsoft is mired in a lawsuit with Sun over Java, which has prevented Microsoft from updating its Java products. Sun sued Microsoft three years ago, arguing that Microsoft built technology into its Java products that leads developers to build Java software that only operates within Windows, defeating Sun's goal of writing software that can run on any operating system.

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