Despite a lukewarm reception, Microsoft is pressing ahead with its J# version of Java for Visual Studio .Net - and believes it can side-step the Sun lawsuit.
Microsoft has released the second beta of Visual J#, the Java language designed for its Visual Studio .Net development environment.
The beta still faces criticism from some quarters for being based on an old version (1.1.4) of Java. On the evidence of the first beta, many dismissed it as only really suitable as a migration path for the small minority of Java programmers using Microsoft's J++ language.
"J# will evolve," said Ari Bixhorn, Microsoft's Visual Basic .Net product manager. "This beta has a stability upgrade and an improved conversion tool, better documentation and dynamic help." Some observers point out that Sun's lawsuit against Microsoft would effectively force it to upgrade and improve J#, making it more competitive with other Java languages, by demanding that it use Sun's own version of Java.
Sun raised concerns about Visual J# .Net in its recent private antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft. The server and software vendor argues that Microsoft has corrupted Java, undermining its key promise: programs that can run on several different computers -- regardless of operating system -- without having to be changed for each one.
"Although Visual J# .Net purports to provide support for writing programs in the Java language," Sun said in the suit, filed less than two weeks ago, "Microsoft has changed the syntax of the Java language in a number of ways, ensuring that the source code written using Visual J# .Net will not be compatible with source code written following the public specifications for the Java language. Visual J# .Net distorts the Java language from a language that can be used to write vendor-independent code that will run on a wide variety of platforms to Microsoft-dependent code that will run only on the Microsoft platform."
Microsoft says the Sun suit will have no impact on Visual J# .Net, though. "The Sun lawsuit doesn't affect the release of Visual J# .Net at all," said Tony Goodhew, Microsoft's product manager for the .Net Framework.
Microsoft executives believe the limited capability of Visual J# .Net allows Microsoft to sidestep licensing issues with Java creator Sun.
In its suit, Sun also alleges that "Microsoft has made false and deceptive statements regarding the ability of its Visual J# .Net product to pass the Java compatibility test suites" -- tests from Sun that ensure that software said to run Java programs works properly.
Goodhew counters, "There is no Sun intellectual property used in the product, nor do we make any claims that it will produce applications that pass any Sun tests or run on any Sun-licensed platform."
Microsoft's software development betas have been criticised for boosting people's hopes and then dashing them. During the long gestation of Visual Studio .Net, many Visual Basic developers expected to do productive work with the betas, and were daunted by early and not-fully-functional versions of upgrade tools.
Microsoft counters that J# has a far smaller user base to worry about; the company plans to support both Visual Basic and Java programmers in the long term.
Programmers can download the beta of J# .Net and start using it with Visual Studio.Net, Microsoft's just-released family of software development tools for building Web services.
Some new features include upgrade wizards that easily convert files from Microsoft's older Java tool, called Visual J++, to support Visual Studio.Net, as well as faster compilers -- technology that translates human-readable programming language into machine-readable code.
Microsoft last year announced its plan to build the new Java tool, along with other tools, to allow programmers to convert older Java software to .Net.
Goodhew said Microsoft plans to release a final version of Visual J# .Net by the middle of the year. At the same time, the company plans to ship a tool that converts Java software code to C# code. C# is a Java-like language that Microsoft has created to compete against Java. A beta version of that conversion tool was released in January.