As the legal battle between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems over Java continues to drag on, the specter of Microsoft's C# Java competitor, is looming large.
When Sun sued Microsoft more than three years ago for allegedly failing to comply with Sun's Java licensing terms, Microsoft was actively pushing its own version of Java, called J++. In recent months, Microsoft has put all its eggs in its C# (pronounced "C-sharp") basket -- and developers are wondering aloud when Microsoft will officially dump J++ and move on.
On Wednesday Microsoft and Sun attorneys were slated to present oral arguments on pending motions in the Java suit, said Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan. But over the weekend, Microsoft said the hearing had been postponed and not yet rescheduled, delaying the still-unscheduled trial date for the case even further.
Testers: Who needs Java?
Microsoft took the wraps off its C# language, which is one of a handful of languages that will be part of its Visual Studio .Net tool suite, earlier this year. At the time of the C# unveiling, Microsoft said as a result of the ongoing Sun lawsuit it was not permitted to include J++ as one of the supported Visual Studio .Net languages.
Microsoft originally developed C# under the code name "Cool," and prior to release of the product, claimed that Cool was merely a better version of Microsoft's C++ language. Privately, Microsoft told developers that Cool was meant to be Microsoft's answer to Sun's Java.
And, indeed, a number of testers who have been dabbling with Beta 1 of Visual Studio .Net -- Microsoft released the beta at Comdex/Fall this year and is due to ship it in the second half of 2001 -- said Microsoft's new language almost completely obviates the need for Java.
"C# is all you really need," said Rick Williamson, CEO of FarPoint Technologies, a Windows component developer based in Morrisville, N.C. "I'd suspect Microsoft will just drop J++."
Williamson went so far as to say that he considers C# to be the most stable part of Visual Studio .Net Beta 1.
Another Beta 1 tester, Sam Patterson, CEO of ComponentSource, an Atlanta-based component marketplace, agreed. "Everything you can do in Java, you can do in C# or even Visual Basic now, with Visual Studio .Net," he said. "In the past, because Java was a lower-level language, you could do more with it."
Visual Studio .Net testers did note that, unlike Java, C# is not cross-platform, and currently supports the development of applications based on Windows and .Net only.
But developers speculated that Microsoft was talking to third-party vendors about porting the underlying .Net framework interfaces to other platforms, but Microsoft has steadfastly declined to comment on when and if it will do so. The only company that has publicly expressed interest in doing such a port is Corel Corp., which has said it would be willing to port .Net to Linux if Microsoft so requested.Microsoft's embrace of Java and its plans to "extend" the Java platform have been hotly debated over the years. Many industry observers considered Microsoft's J++ to be a solid language and Microsoft's Java Virtual Machine to be the best virtual machine implementation on Windows.
But when Microsoft decided against supporting some of Sun's Java platform components, and then -- adding insult to injury -- added its own set of Java class libraries to the Microsoft Java implementation, Sun slapped Microsoft with a contract-compliance lawsuit.
In May of this year, Judge Ronald Whyte ruled that Microsoft did not violate Sun's Java copyright and agreed with Microsoft that Sun must deliver technology for Microsoft's current Java Virtual Machine.
Whyte is not slated to decide until trial whether Microsoft can "independently develop" Java technology and incorporate it into Microsoft products. For now, Microsoft is bound under a preliminary injunction to support Sun's Java technology in its products, pending trial.
When asked whether Microsoft had any plans to simply drop the Java suit with Sun since Microsoft seemingly has no plans to support Java any longer, Microsoft spokesman Cullinan said that because Sun filed the suit, Microsoft has no say-so in that matter. A Sun spokesperson said that Sun always has been open to settlement discussions. At the same time, Sun officials maintained that Sun does not see C# as a threat to Java.
"Two years ago, it would have been a bigger threat, but now Java is the No. 1 programming language for building Internet application systems," said Anne Thomas Manes, director of market innovation at Sun Software. "It's so well-entrenched. We're not worried about losing Java developers to C#.
"There's nothing spectacularly new with C#. It's a nice language and a very reasonable Java alternative," Manes continued. "But if you've been developing with Java for the last two or three years, you have no incentive to go to C#."
Meanwhile, Microsoft is making a big marketing push to get C# into developers' hands. The company has already sent out about 200,000 test versions of Visual Studio.Net to developers and will ship to developers an additional 500,000 copies in January.
Greg DeMichillie, group program manager for C#, said Microsoft's.Net strategy will allow existing Microsoft software developers to build Net-based applications without having to learn a new language, such as Java.