Microsoft outlines Java migration strategy in wake of settlement

Just two days after settling a longstanding legal dispute over Java with rival Sun Microsystems Inc., Microsoft Corp. today announced a set of migration technologies aimed at moving users of its Visual J++ development tools off of the Java platform.

The new tools, called Java User Migration Path to Microsoft .Net (or JUMP to .Net, for short), are supposed to automatically convert Visual J++ applications to the Internet-based .Net computing technology that Microsoft detailed last year. Microsoft said the tools can also be used to migrate existing Java code to C# (pronounced "C sharp"), its new object-oriented programming language.

Microsoft and Sun announced separately on Tuesday that they had agreed to settle a lawsuit over Java licensing that the latter vendor filed four years ago (see story). The settlement calls for Microsoft to pay Sun $20 million and gives Microsoft the right to use Sun's Java code from 1997 in its existing tools for the next seven years.

But the deal restricts Microsoft from updating Visual J++ and its other development tools with new Java code. That presents a problem for Microsoft and its users, since the software vendor is prevented from using any Java release beyond Version 1.1.4. Sun is currently on Version 1.3 of the technology.

"The settlement essentially leaves Microsoft with frozen products," said Mark Driver, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "They can't expand on Visual J++." But a lot of users are interested in Java, he added, "and Microsoft wants to bring those people in [to .Net] as quickly as possible."

The JUMP to .Net migration tools represent Microsoft's attempt to remedy the situation. But some software developers said they've already moved away from Visual J++ due to problems that they experienced in getting support from Microsoft after it was hit by Sun's lawsuit.

"We stopped using Visual J++ because of the lawsuit and the lack of support by [Microsoft]," said Sil Zendejas, a software developer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We were scared because they wouldn't support it and downplayed the existence of Java after a certain point."

However, Zendejas added that he does expect to adopt C# in addition to C++ as alternatives to Java for developing Windows applications. "C# is strikingly similar to Java, so if we want the Java features, we get it there," he said.

"Microsoft stopped upgrading Visual J++ because of the uncertainty about the lawsuit," said Carl Zetie, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. The success of the new migration tools "depends on how just how well this technology works and what proportion of J++ [applications] will go across to the .Net framework," he said.

Microsoft officials said the JUMP tools automatically convert Java programs to C# and .Net and can also flag troublesome code that may need to be converted manually. The migration tools will work with the company's upcoming Visual Studio.Net tool set and are due to be available for beta testing by midyear, Microsoft added. A commercial release is scheduled for shipment in the second half of the year.

Sun spokesman David Harrah said that company's legal team has yet to voice an opinion on whether Microsoft's move warrants any further legal action. But Harrah added that he doesn't expect Sun to pursue new litigation in the matter.

Ashlee Vance of the IDG News Service contributed to this article.

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