The company is working overtime to clear up confusion after trade press reports raised questions about its Java plans.
A report surfaced late last week that the company was briefing developers on a new language, code-named "Cool," that would be similar to Sun Microsystems' Java but free of technological or licensing obligations to Sun. Last year, Sun filed a lawsuit accusing Microsoft of "sabotaging" Java by adding Windows-dependent extensions, in violation of Microsoft's Java license.
There is no Java-like language under development at Microsoft, said Michael Risse, Microsoft's product manager for application development tools.
Risse said the company is talking to developers about a concept called Cool, a much less ambitious project intended to tie Microsoft's Visual C++ development tool more closely to its COM+ middleware. However, Cool is not yet in development, and is unrelated to Java, said Risse. He said Cool is strictly a "whiteboard" concept, and that no software code connected to the concept has been written at Microsoft.
Cool is also unrelated to any Java technology within the company, Risse stated. "There's no connection between Cool and Visual J++, and the Java lawsuit is irrelevant to the thinking we are doing [with Cool]," he said.
He said Cool, which was discussed at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference last fall, is envisioned as a set of technologies, possibly a set of class libraries, for making the company's COM+ server-based programs easier to use with programs written using Microsoft's Visual C++ tool.
COM+, as previously reported, includes all of the company's core component technologies and is beginning to subsume many other related functions, such as transaction processing and message queuing. The first lab versions of COM+ technologies are included with the latest beta-test release of Microsoft's Windows 2000.
While no Java competitors appear to be on the horizon from Microsoft soon, internal developers and marketing executives have in the past debated the wisdom of producing a Java-like clone.
CNET News.com reported that Microsoft did at one time consider new technology that would provide Java's cross-platform capabilities but would remain under Microsoft's control.
Sources said that, several years ago, an internal debate raged over whether Microsoft could effectively clone Java and offer a virtual machine-like environment for running applications built with Java, Visual Basic, C++, Cobol, and other languages.
Such a system could offer developers wider-ranging options than just Java alone.
In court filings disclosed during the Sun trial, a Microsoft executive suggesting building just such a "language-neutral Internet development platform."
Michael Toutonghi, a Microsoft developer, proposed the idea in an April 20, 1997, email message to management. "Maybe in two years' time," Toutonghi wrote, "we could have a functional API set for Internet development that rivals Java. Maybe by that time we will also have the best VM class libs [libraries] for Java, VB, C++ subset, Cobol, and Smalltalk."
Risse said no such technology is under development. In addition, analysts said an attempt to combat Java with a Windows-only competitor most likely would fail in the market.
"It's an incredibly bad idea," said Dave Kelly, an analyst with the Hurwitz Group. "I can't believe that Microsoft would be so stupid as to propose a C++ competitor to Java." Kelly added that if Microsoft were to theoretically develop a true Java competitor-and there is no indication that it is developing any such technology--it would have to be cross-platform, meaning that it would have to work on operating systems other than Windows.
Microsoft customers said the actual "Cool" concept, as described by Risse, would be valuable to C++ developers building Windows applications. But, like other Windows-only technologies, it would tend to lock developers into Microsoft products.
"From a productivity perspective, the COM+ extensions are definitely useful," said Roberto DeVet, a software engineer at Dayton Hudson Corporation. "However, from a purist perspective, it is another way to lock you into Microsoft technology."
Cool is still in the planning stages, Risse said. If the company were to deliver on the Cool concept, it may come later this year when an update to its Visual Studio development tool suite, code-named Rainier, is expected to ship. That release is expected to add support for COM+.
Risse also denied a separate trade press report, published over the weekend, which stated that Microsoft was considering dumping its Visual J++ tool altogether.
"We just released a new version of Visual J++. There was rumor that we were laying off Java developers. That's also not true," said Risse. "Visual J++ is in active development, and we have no thoughts of abandoning VJ, " he said.