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NewTech Viewpoints

Analysis: Scope for Java Developers Widens

New J#.NET language provides bridge to .NET

Related Articles: Commentary: J#.Net will be ignored, Microsoft takes new tack on Java

Position: NewTech believes Microsoft's new J# is significant. It will tend to encourage IT decision-makers to consider the .NET platform, and keep Microsoft-centric developers from completely defecting to Java platforms and tools. The J# announcement is also a huge propaganda win for Microsoft. The Gartner Group is wrong -because J# is very significant (See Commentary: J#.Net will be ignored)


Microsoft announced a new language to be supported by the .NET Common Language Runtime, dubbing the new Java-like offering "J#" or "J sharp". (See Microsoft takes new tack on Java) This new programming language is specific to .NET only and utilizes a previous Java syntax-only license that allows Microsoft to develop and offer a language with the Java operators and syntax.

While Java purists sputter about how this offering is not 'pure' Java, the three major points are missed entirely: with J#, developers win, IT managers win, and Microsoft wins.

Developers Win-Especially Turncoat Microsoft Developers

First, since the beginning of 2001, any modern, rational and motivated developer has been learning Java-for several reasons. Around the start of 2001, learning Java became mandatory. Many of these 'latecomers' are Microsoft loyalists are currently caught in the dead zone in time that post-VisualStudio6, and pre-.NET.  Thus, many recent Java students have yet to work a large, production-level project using the full Java platform.  In addition, many independent consultants caught in the IT slump are being careful to hedge the knowledge bet by staying current by studying Java while waiting for more work to materialize.

This newfound Java knowledge, useful to understanding .NET concepts, is now fully leverage-able in the  .NET world.  Anyone studying Java, for example, may now fully apply the knowledge of Java concepts and syntax in the all-Microsoft .NET world.  Since many of these converts are warmed-over VB/COM+ developers, the Microsoft decision to support a Java-compatible language for .NET could not have come at a better time.

The Microsoft decision to announce J# will keep many previously loyal developers from straying too far.  This buys Microsoft time to establish .NET while using J# to keep developers 'in the corral'. Since no platform gets traction without the support of developers, guess who wins with J#.

IT Managers Win, With A Sigh of Relief

Secondly and perhaps more important, those who pick platforms and write checks for developer training, make IT hiring decisions, and execute on project development-namely, IT managers-the J# decision makes it easier to immediately go .NET for at least a pilot project. IT managers-- many with a legacy of success with Microsoft platforms and tools-have been between a rock and a hard place. Shrinking IT budgets (coupled with a real defection of developer mind-share to the Java platform) has left these managers questioning the next move. Slow .NET adoption is caused in part from a Microsoft failure to support a Java language.  The J# announcement allows these same IT managers to argue for .NET since Java developers can now work it.  Even 'pure' Java developers can now be hired, literally "off the street" to build .NET systems without the need to learn C# or VB.NET.

Further, many IT managers focus on business management, and no longer write code.  They therefore depend on their 'alpha geeks' to help guide decision making.  These developers, sensing an opportunity, are advocating Java platforms and tools.  To appease these key developers, many IT managers have sent key developers to Java training to 'explore' the Java options for that next project.  Many others have tinkered with smaller projects using Java technology and some have built larger systems on top of the likes of IBM Websphere and BEA Weblogic.

For these managers, J# represents a leverage point across several fronts. First, all that Java knowledge slowly simmering in their shops can be put to immediate use on the Microsoft .NET platform, allowing them to explore .NET and hedge their bets.  Many of these managers have a history of developing for Microsoft platforms, already understand it, and would prefer to deal with one vendor.  J# provides a tool to continue doing that, using existing developer resources with Java knowledge.

Admittedly, Java syntax is not the Java platform consisting of J2EE, IBM, and Sun backend, middleware and client-side products. And that is the beauty of what Microsoft has done here with J#. The language is essentially Java without J2EE.

For developers with limited experience building production systems in Java, J# represents a way to have the cake and eat it too.  Developing a .NET system using J# provides a way to a) get resume building, production-level knowledge of 'Java' and b) leverage past experience developing for Microsoft platforms.  In a very real way, experience of this type is a huge resume builder at a time when key skills are not just nice to have, but necessary to thrive, in an uncertain economic landscape.

Microsoft Wins Across Several Fronts

Finally, J# is just a huge propaganda win for Microsoft.  Rabid Java fundamentalists will throw disparaging dimes on everything J#, which will simply add to it's credibility and traction with the entire community of developers. Java developer web sites are buzzing with all sorts of commentary. The simple existence of J# forces everyone to evaluate it and give it press. This hardly hurts Microsoft as it effectively steals Java's thunder, at least for a while.  Secondly, the move is cunning and well timed as it plays an obscure pre-lawsuit Java syntax-licensing deal to trump Java at the precise moment that .NET needs some buzz.  The fact that J# provides a real bridge to the ultimate .NET language- C#-- is not lost on Microsoft, whose best-case scenario is to convert every developer in the world to the C# language, the real language of .NET.

No Comment

Sun and IBM are obligated to sputter something in reply to J#.  The reality is, anything they say will generate press and mind share for J#.  This is something IBM, Sun, and related Java vendors will attempt to completely avoid.  But it is the industry press and reporters that will demand the quotable response from companies committed to Java.  J# trumps IBM and Sun by putting them on the horns of a propaganda/mind share dilemma.

Shooting Self in Foot: a Danger for Microsoft

All bets are off on this NewTech Viewpoint if Microsoft makes what we consider to be mistakes with J#.

Potential Microsoft Mistake #1: It is in Microsoft's short-term best interest to make C# more robust than J#, to drive developers to that language.  C# is the real language of .NET. NewTech's position is this will backfire long-term. Microsoft needs to put J# on an equal footing with C# to be sure J# developers for .NET have the same firepower as C# developers on the .NET platform.

Potential Microsoft Mistake #2: Anyone remember J++? This previous incarnation of Microsoft Java was doomed to failure because of legal infighting and also because of Microsoft's need to dominate anything to do with development tools. To be successful here with J# for .NET, Microsoft has to bury the hatchet on Java publicly and avoid recalling the "Visual J++" debacle with Sun.  All Microsoft has to do here is totally empower J# on the .NET platform. Action, not words, will win the day. If Microsoft cannot deflect any recollection of it's failed J++/Java adventure, the advantages gained by announcing J# for .NET will be short-lived..

Summary Position and Predictions

J# is a winner for developers, for IT managers, and for Microsoft.

For developers and managers previously loyal to Microsoft's platforms and tools, J# is a winner.  For developers with book knowledge of Java and solid VB skills, J# is  the resume building "best of both worlds".  Anyone who works a production .NET project with J# can list both technologies on the resume.. and skew it in either direction, based on the job opportunity in question.  J# on .NET is a winner for developers.

For IT managers, J# allows managers to appease developers clamoring for Java development, while leveraging previously spent Java training and Java hiring dollars to develop pilot projects for Microsoft's .NET.  J# is a winner for IT managers.

For Microsoft, these wins for developers and IT managers, coupled with the propaganda victory (and automatic free PR) absolutely make J# a winner.  IT Managers and developers would be well advised to study J# very carefully in the coming months. Prediction: If Microsoft avoids the mistake of stunting the .NET power of J# relative to C#, this new language will do much to keep old VB developers, and win new developers, to the .NET platform.

Related Articles: Commentary: J#.Net will be ignored, Microsoft takes new tack on Java

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