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Java tool hits beta No. 2

Forging ahead with the next release of its Java development tool package, Microsoft posts a second beta test version of its Visual J++ 6.0.

Microsoft is forging ahead with the next release of its Java development tool package.

The company today posted to its Web site a second beta test version of its Visual J++ 6.0 development tool, according to Bill Dunlap, a product manager at Microsoft.

This latest test version allows developers to build ActiveX controls, includes better data access tools, integrated database tools, better component management, and more standard controls to give developers a Windows "look and feel" to their Java applications.

More importantly, the release includes much better documentation than the first test version, released in March, said Dunlap, who admitted that documentation for the initial test version was lacking. "Technology preview one did not have enough documentation. Some was incomplete, some was wrong. It was not at the point where we thought it was ready. We have corrected that," he said.

Dunlap blamed the rushed documentation on a new Windows-specific development framework called Windows Foundation Classes, which was introduced with the first test release. WFCs are a subset of Microsoft's existing Application Foundation Classes. WFCs give Java developers full access to Win32, the native Windows application programming interface, from within Java applications. The intent is to make Visual J++ more like other Microsoft development tools for Windows.

But, so far, interest in WFCs has been low, said Mike Gilpin, an analyst with Giga Information Group. "I don't see any increased acceptance of WFCs. But it would be unrealistic to see that at this point. Once it's in the market and gets some positive reviews, C++ and Visual Basic developers see it, the level of use may increase."

The WFCs have been at the heart of a controversy over whether Microsoft has attempted to splinter the Java development world between its Windows-specific version of Java and Sun Microsystems' "write once, run anywhere" philosophy.

The companies are currently embroiled in a lawsuit, brought by Sun last October, which alleges that Microsoft has deliberately tried to sabotage Java's write once, run anywhere promise by making Windows implementations of its Java Virtual machine incompatible with those that run on other platforms.

Gilpin said Microsoft's Java tool strategy is still very much tuned to Windows. "Theoretically, you can use Visual J++ for portable Java. But if I were in an organization looking for portable solutions, I'd be less likely to look at Microsoft," he said.

"Most Java developers are continuing to use tools for cross-platform development," said David Smith, an analyst with the Gartner Group. "The Java world is one in which Microsoft has been reduced to the role of spoiler. They are trying to provide reasons for people to use Java on Windows. And they are still very cognizant of the potential for Java to emerge as a platform unto itself," he said.

And even Sun's own portability strategy has its holes, Gilpin said. "There are still some real problems with [ Sun's] Java Foundation Classes, in terms of write once, run anywhere. The most successful are those developers doing server development," he said.

Microsoft's Dunlap would not comment on specifics of the Sun lawsuit. He did say that Microsoft does not depend on Sun's Java technology for its own development tools. "We don't even look at what Sun is doing. All of our work is done internally," he said.

Continuing work on WFCs will also make the tool later than the rest of Microsoft release 6.0 development tools, all also part of the Visual Studio 6.0 package. The package is expected to debut on September 2.

But the final release of Visual J++ 6.0 won't be in the Visual Studio 6.0 package. Instead, Microsoft will include a copy of the second beta version, along with a voucher good for one copy of the final shipping product.

Dunlap said he expects the final version of the tool to ship to users between two and six weeks after Visual Studio 6.0.