'Cool' faces hot fight inside MS

Whether Microsoft's rival to Java ever makes it off the white board depends as much on internal company politics as on legal and technological concerns.

The company's would-be Java killer, code-named Cool, has factions within the software giant battling over whether or not to create an entirely new language, a new variation on C++, or to stay the course and attempt to ride out the company's legal battles over Java with Sun.

Little is known about Cool's timing or feature set. Microsoft officials say that no one at Microsoft has written a line of code for the potential language. But developers outside of the company insist that members of Microsoft's tools group are actively evangelising Cool as an alternative to Java.

Indeed, advocates within Microsoft's Developer Tools Division are the ones pushing the entirely new language approach, say sources. But other Microsoft developers and executives -- primarily those who have been with the company for a number of years -- are advocating staying the course and either betting on a COM+-enhanced version of Microsoft C++ and/or Microsoft Visual J.

Sources say the leader of the latter, more conservative, camp is none other than David Vaskevitch, vice president and chief architect of Microsoft's Distributed Applications Platform Division. Vaskevitch, who reports directly to Microsoft Senior Vice President Jim Allchin, currently drives much of the data access, data architecture and component services strategies for the company. Vaskevitch also is rumoured to be the lead candidate for the head of a new developer group that may emerge as part of a the proposed company-wide reorganisation.

Microsoft may form up to four new divisions -- Enterprise, Consumer, Knowledge Worker and Developer -- as part of the reorganisation, according to industry reports. And if Vaskevitch is appointed to head the developer division, the Cool project could die an untimely death, say sources close to the company. "If Vaskevitch gets the job, Cool is dead," said an official with one company developing for Windows, who requested anonymity.

Vaskevitch and other Microsoft officials contacted for comment did not respond to questions about Cool by press time.

Meanwhile, the company insists it plans to continue work on its Visual J++ Java product simultaneously with any other programming language work in which it is engaged. Company officials deny talk that Microsoft intends to halt work on J++, despite a number of rulings that have not favoured Microsoft by the judge overseeing the Sun vs. Microsoft Java case.

So far, Microsoft has fixed some of its products by adding Java Native Interface support, but it has done nothing to alter its J++ language, other than to add a warning of possible non-compliance of the product and applications developed with it. Microsoft's Research Group also continues to work on a number of Java-related projects. Among these is a Microsoft-developed optimising Java compiler and run-time environment, code-named "Marmot." Microsoft has built a Marmot prototype that is aimed at improving the performance of Java when used in developing large, object-oriented, threaded applications.