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Microsoft woos developers with test version of .Net tools

The company attempts to sway software developers--some of its toughest critics and most important customers--to its plan for linking software more tightly to the Internet.

ORLANDO, Fla.--Microsoft today attempted to sway software developers--some of the company's toughest critics and its most important customers--to its recently announced plan for linking its software more tightly to the Internet.

At a company-sponsored software developer conference here, Microsoft distributed the first tools as part of its .Net plan, first announced last month.

The company's .Net plan, heavily based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML) data-sharing standard, is aimed at making Microsoft's existing software available over the Web to traditional PCs and to increasingly popular devices such as cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). The company is also focusing on making Web services, such as security and directory services, ubiquitous and easy to use for software developers.

Today, Microsoft distributed a test version of the next release of its development tools, called Visual Studio.Net, to more than 6,000 attendees here. The tools package includes updates to Visual Basic, Visual C++ and Visual FoxPro tools, and includes the first version of C#, a new tool announced last month. As first reported by CNET, C# is a Java-like software programming language intended to simplify the building of Web services using Microsoft software.

The company also announced the .Net Framework, which includes a new universal engine that will allow software developers to use many types of programming languages to write Windows applications. Microsoft vice president Paul Maritz, speaking here, said the framework "provides a common platform for all languages." Microsoft announced that along with its own languages, 17 third-party languages, including the popular Web language Perl, will run on the .Net framework.

To help aim development at the growing number of non-PC devices, Microsoft also announced .Net Compact Framework, which lets smaller devices link to XML-based services.

Still unclear is Microsoft's plans for Java, the popular language developed by Microsoft rival Sun Microsystems. Microsoft sells a Java tool, called Visual J++, that is part of its existing Visual Studio tools package. Today, company representatives did not mention the tool or its role in the new Visual Studio.Net package.

Microsoft is mired in a lawsuit with Sun over Java and has been prevented from updating its Java products. Sun sued Microsoft three years ago, arguing that Microsoft built technology into its Java products that leads developers to build Java programs that only operate within Windows, defeating Sun's "write once, run anywhere" goal.

In other news, Microsoft said it has published the specifications for two XML-based technologies to its Web site for review. SOAP, or the Simple Object Access Protocol, is based on XML and forms the cornerstone of Microsoft's .Net plan. The technologies, called SOAP Contract Language and SOAP Discovery, are intended to let programmers more easily find and link to Web-based services.

Microsoft also detailed plans for adding XML support to its existing server software through new products called .Net Enterprise Servers. The company announced a language, called XLANG, for integrating multiple Web programs through Microsoft's BizTalk software. As first reported by CNET, Microsoft plans to add a feature called Orchestration to BizTalk Server. Orchestration is Microsoft's technology for easily defining the business process logic that dictates how an e-commerce Web site functions and the information that needs to be passed among mainframe, Unix, PDA and Windows-based computers to complete a transaction.