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Microsoft is building a Java-like development framework for the C++ language as it attempts to distance itself from Java following its legal defeat by Sun for breaching its Java contract.

However, while the new technology, codenamed Cool, has been widely described as an alternative to Java, it doesn't seem to be the fully fledged 'Java rival' language suggested by various reports in the US media following last week's PC Week Cool story.

Certainly Microsoft was quick to deny that's the nature of the new technology. "Nobody is writing any code in any new language in this company today and in the foreseeable future," Michael Risse, product manager for application development tools was reported as promising.

And while most of the third-party developer sources cited by PC Week were keen to hype up Cool as some kind of anti-Java secret weapon, none went as far as explicitly describing it as a new language.

In fact, Cool appears to be a framework that will give C++, already an object-oriented language, the same simplified approach to that method of programming that Java offers.

"It makes C++ programming simpler," said Greg Leake, Microsoft's lead product manager for Visual Studio, quoted in InfoWorld. "We like the Java language because it's simple - and simpler than C++. Can we not take the things that are wonderful about C++ and marry them with an easier model?"

Cool essentially operates through the next version of Microsoft's Component Object Model, COM+, due to ship with Windows 2000. COM, you'll recall, provides the foundation for ActiveX, Microsoft's first attempt at providing an alternative to Java applets.

That suggests if it ever ships, Cool won't be a cross-platform product. But Microsoft currently supports ActiveX in non-Windows versions of Internet Explorer, and it will probably do so with the next, COM+ based version of the technology.

Still, that's nowhere near the level of cross-platform support provided by Java. Nor will Cool have any of the massive momentum Java has built up over the last four years. ®

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