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Commentary: ECMA approval--a victory of sorts

Gartner says the approval of the C# and Common Language Infrastructure development tools as standards marks only a small step forward for Microsoft's .Net strategy.

By David Smith, Gartner Analyst

The approval of the C# and Common Language Infrastructure (CLI) development tools as standards by the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) marks a small step forward for Microsoft's .Net strategy that will have minimal impact on Java.

On the surface, Microsoft will position C# less as an alternative to Java than as an attempt to provide .Net developers with many of the benefits of Java. However, Gartner expects Microsoft to target C# and its .Net framework not only at Microsoft developers but also at Java vendors and technology providers in an attempt to dampen Java's growing critical mass among developers.

See news story:
Microsoft gets backing for .Net tools
The ECMA approval represents a victory of sorts for Microsoft. In 2000, Sun Microsystems pulled its own Java ECMA submission and opted instead for a community process. Thus, in a small way, Microsoft has shown that it has gone further to make C# a language that's "open" to all developers. For most people, though, Java remains open enough.

Microsoft made a related move in June 2001, when it established the Shared Development Process (SDP), to facilitate industry participation, cooperation and feedback on key technology development initiatives, starting with C# and CLI.

SDP indicates that Microsoft realizes it won't be able to single-handedly drive the next generation of Web services models, best practices and standards. The success of any vendor offering Web services will depend, in significant part, on its ability to create a critical mass of grassroots support.

However, although SDP represents a necessary step for Microsoft, it needs to do much more work to lay the technical foundations for a workable shared (community) development structure. Furthermore, and most importantly, serious cultural changes must take hold within Microsoft to fully support this effort. Microsoft has historically benefited from nearly complete control over its own technology vision.

ECMA's approval of C# and CLI as standards does little to give C# the key characteristic of Java--its ability to operate on all computing platforms. CLI is a subset of Common Language Runtime (CLR), the component within the .Net platform that is ultimately responsible for managing the runtime environment for applications compiled to byte code. Without all of CLR, the potential for C# on other platforms remains largely an academic question.

By itself, ECMA's approval will likely not make developers feel that they have enough input into these tools to want to use them. From here on, the amount of control Microsoft cedes to developers will be key in the speed with which they use C# to help fill out the .Net framework.

The bigger issue, then, is whether .Net itself will run on platforms other than Microsoft's, and Gartner sees little incentive for Microsoft to want to cooperate with such efforts.

(For related commentary on Gartner's assessment of Microsoft's shared-source plan, see Gartner.com.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2001 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.