Users say Java clone wouldn't be cool
February 25, 1999
by David Orenstein and Carol Sliwa
(IDG) -- Microsoft has regained some legal footing to develop its own Java technology, and some partners say Microsoft is pondering Java-like improvements to its Visual C++ tool.
But users say they are skeptical the software company can build a better Java than the Sun Microsystems' original.
Late last week, Judge Ronald Whyte ruled that an earlier injunction against Microsoft doesn't prevent the company from developing a version of Java free of any of Sun's code. Whyte is presiding over Sun's lawsuit against Microsoft in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif. The November 1998 injunction said it was likely that Microsoft was violating Sun's copyright with unauthorized alterations of the Java language using Sun's code.
Prior to last week, Microsoft already had begun to talk with some of its technology partners and customers about a potential new language, code-named "Cool," that would be derived from C++ but would incorporate many Java-like productivity enhancements. Among the possible improvements: eliminating memory leaks and some pointers, which programmers find difficult, and developing applets that can run in Internet browsers.
"They've learned a lot from Java," says an executive at a partner company that has been briefed about Cool. Another developer at a partner company adds, "I think the idea is: 'Let's make a language that is similar.'"
Microsoft officials publicly have asserted that Cool has little to do with Java and is instead based on making C++ a more productive language.
Corporate developers say they would welcome improvements to existing Microsoft tools such as C++, but many are skeptical that the benefits of a new Java-like language would be sufficient to make the switch worthwhile.
"Who needs another language?" asks Keith E. Carpenter, a vice president of client access systems at The Chase Manhattan Bank Corp. in New York. Java does a good job of improving on C++ already, he says, and any language Microsoft develops will probably work only with Windows. "I'm not interested in it at all," he says.
Curtis Chambers, manager of distributed application architecture at Home Depot Inc. in Atlanta, agrees. "I think the last thing we need to do is come out with another language," he says. "The advantage of Java -- and what scares Microsoft -- is multiplatform."
Michael Risse, a Microsoft development tools product manager, last week acknowledged that the company has discussed a technology termed Cool. But he declined to describe any specifics. Last October, at its Professional Developers Conference, Microsoft demonstrated a possible aspect of Cool: language extensions to C++ that would make accessing COM+ -- an enhancement of Component Object Model -- services easier.
Risse said part of Cool's mission would be to improve existing development tools, not necessarily develop a whole new language. Risse and Microsoft group program manager Charles Fitzgerald insisted that Cool has nothing to do with the Java lawsuit.
There are still differences of opinion within Microsoft about what direction Cool ultimately should take, Risse also acknowledged. "We scrub ideas," he said. "It's a process of review and analysis."
Analyst Larry Perlstein at Dataquest in San Jose, Calif., says Microsoft probably isn't working on a whole new language to try to replace Java or C++. What's more likely, he says, is that Cool is part of the natural upgrade path for C++, which represents a shrinking but still very lucrative market for vendors such as Microsoft.
Any new Microsoft language would have a ways to go to catch up to Java technologically and in terms of market appeal, adds Shawn Myron, a financial systems analyst at BC Tel Mobility in Barnaby, British Columbia.
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