.NET's threat to Java is financial not technological, according to James Gosling who believes Microsoft's wallet poses the biggest challenge to Sun Microsystems Inc's drive for market share,Gavin Clarke writes
Gosling - the inventor of Java - concedes, though, Microsoft has made some inroads with Visual Studio.NET. The integrated development environment (IDE), he believes, could pose more of a threat than the .NET languages it contains.
Gosling spoke after Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft last month reported what is believed the first large-scale implementation of a .NET language - the migration of 1.3 million lines of Visual Basic 6.0 to Visual Basic.NET by the Central Bank of Costa Rica.
The Central Bank installed Visual Basic.NET on its mission-critical electronic payment and transaction system.
In an interview with ComputerWire, Gosling dismissed technical improvements in Visual Basic.NET and Microsoft's latest programming language C Sharp. Gosling believes Visual Basic and C Sharp lack adequate security, through their memory models, and necessary cross-platform features that have made Java popular with an estimated 1.5 million developers worldwide.
"It's hard to criticize [C Sharp] because it such an obvious [Java] clone," Gosling said. "The real threat from Microsoft is they can out fund us. They fund developers... Sun is not in a position where we can buy partners," he said.
Commenting on Visual Studio.NET, Gosling said: "The threat is not [Microsoft's] language but the tools. They have made it easy for people to make simple applications and assemble them."
Java and Java IDEs have been criticized for being needlessly complex, excluding many non-technical programmers. It's a challenge recognized by companies like San Jose, California-based BEA Systems Inc, who earlier this year launched WebLogic Workshop to simplify development of Java-based web services.
Sun is following suit with the two-year old ACE Project, to build a tool the company says will radically reduce the time and expertise required to develop web-enabled enterprise applications.
ACE uses code generators to encapsulate an application programmer's expertise avoiding the need to edit code as users edit the original application specification instead. Code is optimized to the underlying hardware so programmers do not have to undertake hand-coding. Gosling said ACE is "on the edge" of turning into a product.
Despite praising Visual Studio.NET's greater ease-of-use, Gosling believes the IDE to be distinctly "middle-of-the-road". Microsoft is converging its embedded, desktop and server development environments on Visual Studio.NET, dispensing with separate IDEs for platforms such as Windows CE .NET for example.
Gosling said the strength of Java IDEs, though, is that they are tailored to the requirements of specific platforms. Scotts Valley, California-based Borland Software Corp, for example, spans mobile, desktop and server with different versions of JBuilder.
"Microsoft says Visual Studio.NET does everything for everybody. That Visual Studio.NET works for the high-end developer and the low-end developer. They are [really] middle of the road.
"There's a large collection of tools for different situations. Sometimes people want us because we don't have a simple answer. No one size fits all," he said.