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MS lures developers with Java

Microsoft announces it will embrace the cross-platform Java language in its bid to attract developers to its Active Directory platform.

Microsoft (MSFT) sees a window of opportunity for its directory services made possible by Java.

The company announced it will adopt the Java programming language for its Active Directory Services Interface, a developer's kit that essentially lets applications work across multiple directories, including Novell Directory Services (NDS) and any Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP)-compliant directory.

Directories are essentially address books for networks that include a list of network resources and their locations so that an application can find them. They perform an essential function for networking administrators but there is still no widely accepted industry standard that lets directories work across multiple network platforms. LDAP has been proposed as such a standard, but it's unclear whose technology will prevail.

By letting developers write to multiple directories, Microsoft is attempting to offer developers a platform that takes advantage of the Windows environment but also lets applications run across multiple non-Windows directories.

The company's announcement today preempts an expected move by rivals Novell and Sun Microsystems' JavaSoft division.

Within a week, JavaSoft is expected to announce the Java Directory Naming Interface, a similar interface that will be integrated into the Java Development Kit. Novell is expected to adopt the interface so that developers can use the language to write applications to NDS.

While Novell is still struggling to convince developers to write to NDS, Microsoft wants to get a step ahead by adding Java to its set of programming interfaces for its Active Directory.

"The goal is to provide open interfaces for developers to produce directory-enabled applications on multiple platforms," noted Enzo Schiano, group product manager for Windows NT Server at Microsoft. Schiano said a final release date for the Java interfaces will be set after the company gets feedback from beta testers.

"Even though they can't deliver a directory today, they want people to start writing to it now so that when NT 5.0 and Active Directory are released, the applications will be there," said Jamie Lewis, president of the Burton Group consultancy.

Microsoft's own Active Directory will ship as part of Windows NT Server 5.0, due to hit beta testing by the second half of this year.