Microsoft Turns the Tables on Sun and Java

REDMOND, WASH. (06/29/2000) - For years, Microsoft Corp. has stewed over the popularity of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java programming language and downplayed its relevance, but now the software giant is going on the offensive.

The company this week introduced an object-oriented programming language designed for its new .Net Internet platform.

Microsoft says its new C# ("C sharp") language lets developers build components that can be invoked from any application running on any platform. The message is akin to Java's write-once, run-anywhere motto. C#, which has its roots in C++ and C, is intended to give developers a way to build Web-based applications and services that can run over the 'Net. The key integration component is XML.

"Microsoft is trying to hand Java its own medicine," says Evan Quinn, an analyst with Hurwitz Group in Boston. "I wouldn't be surprised to see Microsoft open source the entire language" in order to show Sun what it means by open.

But Quinn also says that Java has picked up significant momentum over the past year and that for Microsoft backers, C# is "coming in the nick of time."

To punctuate its battle with Sun, Microsoft will submit C# to the European Computers Manufacturers Association (ECMA) standards body next month. It's the same forum in which Sun sought standards approval for Java before eventually pulling out over disputes about control of the technology. Microsoft has two members in the ECMA 50-member General Assembly.

"If C# is standardized, it will be a true and complete open standard," says Tony Goodhew, Visual C++ product manager for Microsoft. "We're not playing games like some of our competition who shopped around for a rubber stamp on their technology."

Beyond its battles with Sun, Microsoft says C# is about giving developers better tools for writing Web applications and services.

C# has eliminated many of the dicier aspects of C++, including multiple inheritance and complex syntax. It includes features such as memory allocation abilities so applications need less code, developers make fewer errors and debugging cycles are reduced, Goodhew says.

C# will be available in beta form this fall, but Microsoft plans to hand out preview copies later this month at its Professional Developers Conference in Orlando, Florida. Eventually C# will be part of Visual Studio.Net, the development tools for the Microsoft. Net platform that are scheduled to ship in 2002.

"This language simplifies C++," says Tom Murphy, an analyst with Meta Group in Stamford, Connecticut. "The issue, however, is 'Will it matter outside the Microsoft environment?' Microsoft has a big challenge to build a community around C#."

Microsoft: com/vstudio/nextgen/.