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Microsoft readies component toolkits

Microsoft is attacking the market for Web component development tools on two fronts by launching Java and ActiveX tools.

Microsoft (MSFT) is attacking the market for Web component development tools on two fronts.

Today, the company announced the availability of the Software Development Kit (SDK) for Java that will let developers build stand-alone Java applications that can run independently of a Web browser.

In the coming weeks, Microsoft will begin beta testing a special version of its Visual Basic development toolset for building ActiveX components.

Both moves are part of the company's evolving plan to become a one-stop-shopping provider of technology needed to build enterprise-scale Internet applications, and to fend off any competition from arch-rival Netscape Communications.

"There's a ton of enthusiasm and excitement with Java," said Charles Fitzgerald, a program manager for Microsoft's Internet Platform and Tools Division. But, he added, "developers have been pretty frustrated with the level of tools."

The Java SDK for the Sun Microsystems cross-platform programming language includes class libraries, utilities, documentation, sample source code, and a Java virtual machine, so that Java applications can run directly from Windows 95 and Windows NT.

"It frees Java from the shackles of a browser," Fitzgerald said. "Developers would like to write standalone applications just like they write standalone applications every day. This allows them to do that with Java."

The timing of the announcement -- coinciding with the ongoing Netscape Communications Developer's Conference being held in New York this week ? indicates that Microsoft may be trying to steal some thunder from their Internet competitor's showcase. Sun and Netscape have allied themselves as Web standard bearers versus Microsoft.

The SDK can be used with the Microsoft Visual J++ development tool or other development environments. ActiveX controls can also be integrated into Java-based apps using the kit.

The toolkit is available free for download. Several development tool vendors, such as Borland International, Powersoft, MetroWerks, and of course, Microsoft, are also announcing that they will ship the kit with their Java development tools.

The special version of Visual Basic will be called the Visual Basic 5.0 Control Creation Edition, said Jon Roskill, director of marketing for Visual Basic at Microsoft. The tool will let developers build ActiveX components through a drag-and-drop interface, and will be small enough?around 5 megabytes in size?to be downloaded via the Internet from Microsoft's Web site.

The tool will enter beta test within three weeks, said Roskill, and Microsoft will distribute beta copies of the tool to attendees of the company's Site Builder Conference to be held in two weeks.