Microsoft fires salvo at Java developers

Microsoft launched Visual J# .NET a few weeks ago, a tool designed to let Java language developers access and build Windows .NET apps. But Java vendors like BEA are finally delivering toolsets that could give Visual Studio.NET a run for its money.

Visual J# looks like a ploy to turn Java

into “”just another programming language””, one of around 20 supported by Visual Studio.NET. But Java is far more than a programming language; it is also an associated set of runtimes—Java 2 Mobile Edition (J2ME), Java 2 Standard Edition (J2SE) and Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE).

J2EE increasingly represents and embeds a set of best practices and design patterns for building transactional apps and middle tier business logic. Unlike with Windows.NET these applications run on a variety of operating systems, from Linux to Windows to HP NonStop server (Tandem Himalaya). J2EE proves itself as a robust engine for deploying large scale apps every day—just ask Charles Schwab.

J2EE is a genie that Microsoft can’t force back into the bottle. In 1995, Java may have been just another programming language, but that was a long time ago.

Visual J# .NET follows Java language syntax fairly closely, but doesn’t support the class libraries or specifications such as Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) and JavaServer Pages (JSP) that make server-side Java powerful. So although Microsoft may retain its J++ installed base (J#’s precursor) with the new offering, it won’t win many converts from the “”Java Community.””

The deeper problem for Microsoft is the progress BEA, IBM, Oracle, and others have made in developer tools. Visual Studio.NET is still best of breed but it is no longer light years ahead of the competition.

In terms of sheer corporate development productivity, BEA, for one, is gently rattling the folks at Redmond. BEA Workshop (codenamed Cajun) is a powerful IDE. Many of the folks that designed and built the tool came from Microsoft, and when it comes to ease of use and look and feel that heritage really shows. Hardcore Java coders, on a Jolt cola jag, might look at Workshop and come away under-whelmed. But the tool isn’t aimed at code junkies; it’s designed to bridge BEA’s transactional capabilities with Visual Basic-like productivity, which is where the threat to Microsoft comes in.

BEA really understands the ugly stuff of 2 phase commits, rollbacks and middle-tier persistence. Workshop hides a lot of that, enabling a clearer separation between development and deployment roles. This is a real step forward—in J2EE shops today everyone is a plumber, and plumbers don’t come cheap.

Workshop was designed to allow developers with VB-like skills to build Web Services apps for BEA WebLogic. Development organizations will still need J2EE rocket scientists on staff for tweaks and improvements, but developing J2EE apps and Web Services would no longer be their sole province. Why not build Java code with VB-like skills, rather than building Windows .NET only code with Java skills? That is the emerging promise of WorkShop and other emerging Java productivity tools.

James Governor is an analyst for Nashua, N.H.-based market advisory firm Illuminata Inc. Before joining the company in August 1999 he was deputy managing editor at Information Week U.K.

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