J# expected to hit the right note for J++ developers

In a move to position Java programmers within the .NET framework, Microsoft Corp. has launched Visual J# .NET, however its biggest potential user group are Visual J++ developers, according to analysts.

Visual J#, which is pronounced “J sharp,” is a development tool specifically designed for Java-language developers who want to build applications on .NET rather than the Java virtual machine, said Michael Flynn, senior product manager of developer tools at Microsoft Canada Co. in Mississauga, Ont.

“It protects the skillset investments that Java developers have made,” Flynn said. “Microsoft has created (it) to ensure that Java programmers have the opportunity to work in .NET.”

Part of Java’s allure for developers is its potential to run on a wide range of operating systems, but by contrast, Microsoft recommends that its tools be used to build applications optimized to run on Windows. Developers who do write applications for other operating systems are advised to connect applications through XML-based Web services, which Microsoft heavily promotes as a key to interoperability.

According to Dwight Davis, vice-president and practice director at analyst firm Summit Strategies in Seattle, migrating Java developers might be wishful thinking on the part of Microsoft.

“Realistically, the developers interested in using Visual J# are firmly entrenched in the Windows development camp to begin with and simply view Java as useful to have in their toolkit of languages. Any pure Java developer who is wedded to the language will be hard pressed to turn to a Microsoft language,” he said.

Davis went on to say that for Microsoft, Java is in many ways a dead-end path.

“Most people who are committed to Java are going to look at this as Microsoft’s skew of the Java language, and will shy away from it if they’re not completely opposed to it,” he said.

Greg DeMichillie at analyst firm Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash., agreed that die-hard Java developers who don’t like Microsoft as it is will be a hard sell on Visual J#. However, he considers the new release an answer for the J++ developers who lost support after Microsoft became involved in a lawsuit with Sun Microsystems.

“It really left users kind of stuck. The first goal of Visual J# is to un-stick those people who were stranded when Microsoft had to withdraw the former product,” he said.

Visual J#.NET is designed to modify applications developed with Visual J++ to be executed on the framework, interoperate with other .NET-based languages and applications and incorporate new functionality.

According to Flynn, the learning curve for both J++ and Java developers choosing to move over to Visual J#.NET will be minimal.

“The biggest change might be how to take advantage of the integrated environment and to reduce the amount of code that needs to be written,” he said.

DeMichillie said that the other group of potential Visual J#.NET adapters is the community of Visual Basic developers who have experimented with Java.

“For these people J# isn’t a really big deal because they can already make applications for .NET with Visual Basic.NET, but it’s an effort on the part of Microsoft to win back the hearts and minds of the Visual Basic community who have become increasingly interested in Java,” he said.

In Flynn’s opinion, it matters less who’s writing the applications than what’s being produced.

“At the end of the day, software is about business and not about the groups of people who are writing it. It’s not about a language, but about how fast you can get it done and seeing a true ROI on developing software. The faster we can provide a sophisticated tool that understands the framework, the faster companies are going to be enabled and the more intuitive the applications will be for customers,” he said.

-With files from IDG News Service