Microsoft executives today unveiled plans to offer new Web features in the company's popular Visual C++ development tool. The software giant also said it will integrate all of its software development tools so that programmers can use multiple programming languages on one computer screen to write Web software.
Previously, developers using Microsoft's family of Visual Studio tools, including those for Visual Basic and Visual C++, had to launch them separately to build the various parts of software applications, said Bill Dunlap, Microsoft's lead Visual Studio product manager.
Microsoft also is considering a way to support programmers who use the Java programming language to write software for Windows. A lawsuit filed by Sun Microsystems, Java's developer, limits Microsoft's ability to update its Visual J++ Java tool.
Dunlap said Microsoft plans to allow other software makers to integrate their Java tools into Visual Studio. The company hasn't updated Visual J++ in about 18 months.
"We are still interested in supporting the Java language, but until the litigation is resolved, we can't talk about the future of our product," Dunlap said. "It's possible we can see a third party step forward with a Java tool that's unrelated to our own."
The unified set of Visual Studio tools will also integrate other Web technologies, including an HTML editor for designing sites and a tool for using XML (Extensible Markup Language), a Web standard that's expected to make it easier and cheaper for businesses to exchange data online.
Microsoft also plans to offer one tool to test and fix bugs in all code generated with its products. The next edition of Visual Studio--version 7.0--is expected to ship in test form by the end of the year.
Gartner Group analyst Mark Driver said that melding the development tools into one user interface is a feature that Microsoft's software developers have long wanted.
"The number of C++ programmers who are also using Visual Basic to build a user interface (for their business software) is quite high," Driver said. "To have a single consistent environment is the next natural evolution for Visual Basic."
The move to make Visual Studio more Web-friendly and easier to use is part of Microsoft's strategy to maintain its operating system dominance as computing begins to move from desktop PCs toward Internet-enabled wireless devices, such as cell phones and handheld devices.
To combat new challenges from Web-based devices and alternate operating systems, such as Linux, Microsoft released the Windows 2000 operating system earlier this year. It plans to release a new set of Web development software, including database and e-commerce software dubbed BizTalk Server, which will help businesses connect different computing systems so they can conduct trades online.
Besides having a unified window for writing software, Microsoft's Visual C++ tool will offer "Active Template Library classes," or prewritten software code, which allows programmers to link Web applications to the company's Internet Information Server; the server software that delivers Web pages to people browsing the Net.
Microsoft executives said this will allow software developers to quickly offer services created by others on their Web sites. They cited the company's own Passport electronic wallet technology as one such service. Passport allows people to sign in once and buy items online without having to enter credit card and personal information on numerous sites.
In addition, Microsoft has signed other software makers to add new languages such as Cobol and Fortran to Visual Studio, Dunlap said. The tools from other software makers can be integrated into Visual Studio and can take advantage of its single-user interface.