Ignoring Skeptics, Microsoft Touts Java as Key Language for .NET

Earlier this month at its Server DevCon event in Seattle, Microsoft professed its support for Java, describing Visual J# .NET as a primary language for the .NET Framework. And though developer interest seems low, Microsoft continues to insist J# is equally important in the .NET scheme of things as its flagship languages Visual C# .NET and Visual Basic .NET.

Industry insiders, however, wonder whether Microsoft can maintain a high level of commitment to Java if J# doesn’t hit big with developers.

So far, J# isn’t generating much buzz in either the Java or Microsoft communities. At last month’s DevCon show, the sessions on J# were among the most poorly attended at the event. And, with a plethora of solid Java development tools already on the market, J# faces a difficult task in attracting Java programmers to Visual Studio .NET.

“It’s still too early to tell [how many people are using J#],” says Prashant Sridharan, Product Manager for Visual Studio. “We don’t have really good data yet.”

According to Sridharan, the uptake for C# has exceeded his expectations. And, he believes VB .NET will match the popularity of the pre-.NET Visual Basic, which he estimates is used by about 60 percent of all developers. But, Sridharan says, the rate of adoption for J#, since it was just released in July, is still an unknown.

Ultimately, Microsoft is hoping J# will bring Java developers to the .NET platform. “It does appeal to the Java developer looking to develop for .NET,” says Sridharan. But, most industry analysts believe this to be an unlikely scenario.

In a recent conversation with ENT, Dwight Davis, a vice president with IT analyst group Summit Strategies, said Microsoft is a difficult sell with Java developers. He said, “I’ve found the Java community to be very skeptical of anything Microsoft is doing.”

In the end, Davis said he feels Microsoft will only be able to attract a “negligible” amount of Java developers to the .NET platform.

Mike Gilpin, a vice president with IT consultancy Giga Information Group, echoes Davis’ sentiment.

“There are two different realities when it comes to J#,” says Gilpin. “There’s what Microsoft would like to happen, and what is likely going to happen.”

At this point, Gilpin says the only group of developers that will have a definite interest in J# are those with existing J++ applications that they want to run on .NET. As for new Java development, Gilpin says J# doesn’t figure to be a major factor.

According to Gilpin, Microsoft’s J++ -- the pre-cursor to J# -- was a very strong and very popular tool for building not only Java applications for Microsoft platforms, but also for building pure Java solutions. But, J++ lost its share in the developer space when a much-publicized lawsuit filed by Sun Microsystems against Microsoft tied the technology up, and allowed competitive Java tools offerings to pass it by. Now, Gilpin says, Microsoft is far removed from the Java spotlight, and J# isn’t likely to put them back in it.

In fact, Gilpin says, of the Java developers he sees building applications for .NET, most are using C#, not J#. He says, most Java developers that build for .NET are attracted by the “high productivity of Visual Studio .NET.” And, he says, once they commit to Visual Studio, most developers are choosing C# because they believe the community for that language is larger and more supportive than it is for J#.

Despite what developers may think, Sridharan says Visual Studio .NET currently offers equal support for both C# and J#. “J# is as powerful as C#,” says Sridharan. Although, he says, with the next major release of Visual Studio .NET, some differences may start to emerge in the capabilities of the two languages.

From Microsoft’s perspective, Sridharan says as long as developers are using Visual Studio .NET to build their applications, he doesn’t really care which .NET language they use. Whether it be J#, C# or VB.NET, “the language is irrelevant,” says Sridharan. “Our objective is to develop the best developer tool on the market.”

However, if J# fails to gain the attention of developers, there is some concern Microsoft may ditch the language entirely. But Sridharan says that is unlikely. “We are committed to having multiple languages on our platforms, and J# is definitely one of those languages,” he says.

Gilpin, on the other hand, estimates it will be about a year before Microsoft has to make some hard decisions about J#. But, even then, he doubts Redmond will bail on the language. One thing he suggests Microsoft might do, if J# doesn’t hit with developers, is push the management and development of the language off to a third-party vendor. In any event, he says, “I would be surprised if [J#] was being positioned in the same way that it is being positioned today in a year from now.

About the Author

Matt Migliore is regular contributor to He focuses particularly on Microsoft .NET and other Web services technologies. Matt was the editor of several technology-related Web publications and electronic newsletters, including Web Services Report, ASP insights and MIDRANGE Systems.