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Microsoft courts Java developers with new tools

The company announces a new set of software development tools and services that will allow Java programmers to support Microsoft's new software strategy.

On the heels of settling its Java lawsuit with Sun Microsystems, Microsoft on Thursday announced a new set of software development tools and services that will allow Java programmers to support Microsoft's new software strategy.

Microsoft announced three sets of tools that translate Java software so it can support Microsoft.Net, the company's new strategy to move its Windows operating system and software to the Web. Microsoft.Net is aimed at making software available as a service over the Net to traditional PCs and handheld devices, such as cell phones and Web-surfing appliances.

The new software tools--called Java User Migration Path to Microsoft.Net, or JUMP to .Net--allows developers using Microsoft's Visual J++ Java development tool to modify their existing Java developers to support the .Net architecture.

Another tool allows Java developers to use the Java programming language to write new software that works on Microsoft.Net.

In a bid to lure Java developers to Microsoft's software development environment, Microsoft will also ship a tool that converts Java software code to C# code. C# (pronounced "C-sharp") is a Java-like language that Microsoft has created to compete against Java. The new tools will be available in the second half of this year, Microsoft executives said.

Microsoft also announced it will offer consulting services and work with third-party consultants who will help Java developers move to Microsoft.Net.

"The goal is to provide a path for Visual J++ and other Java developers to preserve their existing investments and migrate those investments to the Microsoft.Net platform," said Charles Fitzgerald, business development director for Microsoft's platform strategy group.

Predictably, executives from Sun Microsystems, creator of the Java language, scoffed at Microsoft's announcement.

"This is a vapor announcement. It's nothing they are making available today," said Sun representative David Harrah. "It's a very focused effort to try to give a bridge for the Microsoft J++ developers who were left in a lurch when Microsoft decided to create a proprietary version of Java."

Thursday's announcement follows this week's settlement of a 4-year-old Java licensing lawsuit between Microsoft and rival Sun. Microsoft agreed to pay Sun $20 million in exchange for Microsoft's ability to continue to support and sell Java products for the next seven years.

Sun had argued Microsoft built Java technology into its products that was incompatible with Sun guidelines. The company claimed that Microsoft, which licensed Java in 1995, violated the license agreement and is not entitled to the latest versions of the technology.

Sun further argued that its rival led developers to build Java programs that operate only with Microsoft's Windows--defeating Sun's "write once, run anywhere" goal for Java and violating the letter of the Java licensing agreement.

While Microsoft historically has steered developers to write for Windows, Sun and its Java supporters--IBM, Oracle and dozens of others--support the ability to write software that runs on any hardware or operating system.

With Thursday's announcement, Microsoft now supports about 20 languages in Microsoft.Net, including C++, Cobol, SmallTalk and Perl. Microsoft's Fitzgerald said the new Java tools will ship after Microsoft's next version of Visual Studio is released. Visual Studio is Microsoft's family of software development tools.

One Java software developer, Rick Ross, president of UserMagnet, an "e-loyalty services" developer in Cary, N.C., said he is wary of Microsoft's Java announcement.

Ross said Microsoft's decision not to include a Java Virtual Machine in its forthcoming Internet Explorer 6.0 Web browser--one of the terms of the settlement--spells trouble for anyone who believes in the "write once, run anywhere" potential of Java. A Java Virtual Machine is a software component that runs Java applications on different types of computers.

"Open standards and vendor neutrality are still my priority," said Ross, who also is president of the Java Lobby.