Microsoft expects .NET to take the development platform crown from rival J2EE, relegating the current leader to academia and other niche markets in favour of what it sees as the 'easier' alternative.
Frank Arrigo, manager of the .NET developer group at Microsoft, said companies were beginning to migrate from dominant rival J2EE to .NET.
"J2EE does drive market share but I'm seeing a lot of organisations that were all J2EE are now doing almost all of their business in .NET," he said. "And what they're saying is that from an architecture point of view it's the same, but deploying .NET they are finding is quicker, faster and cheaper," Arrigo said.
The reason, he said, was that J2EE required so many tweaks and was so complex that companies were getting a lower return on the investment required to produce go-to-market applications.
"You can tweak every single thing, and that's the power and the complexity of J2EE. .NET is easy -- you're tweaking for the most common scenarios, so you're able to do that quickly," Arrigo said.
He pointed to Sun's Petshop as a great example of a J2EE-based application. Microsoft had a third party create a .NET version, which basically was better, faster and cheaper, he said.
Companies which had the specialised J2EE experience to maximise that platform's potential often still found that it took a long time to get what were comparatively marginal performance benefits, he said.
"It took one 10 months and it got performance benefits but it was cumulative, not exponential. So the effort was greater than the returns," Arrigo said. "I look at it from an ISV perspective. It's about getting stuff to market quickly -- that's the pressure."
He said .NET was likely to increase its marketshare with Microsoft's release of the next generation of SQL Server (codenamed Yukon) and the beta of Visual Studio .NET 2.0 (codenamed Whidby) next year.
J2EE could eventually become a niche product, used almost exclusively by programming enthusiasts, researchers and academics, he hinted. "You could say that. I'm not going to but you could say that," Arrigo said.
Robert Silver, CEO of a Melbourne integrator that develops for J2EE, Remora Technologies, said technology market leaders in several different areas suggested J2EE was unlikely to lose to .NET any time soon.
"Obviously, you have got to look at Java from two perspectives. With .NET, you need to use Microsoft's SQL Server. Yet Oracle has a significant part of the market and strongly supports Java and I can't see that changing. People are investing with Oracle," he said.
Further, statistics from IT monitoring website NetCraft showed that the Java-friendly HTTP server Apache, for example, was growing its lead over IIS. Apache does not support .NET, Silver said.
One of next year's 'hot buttons' is tipped to be mobility. However, the Symbian OS remained dominant in the smartphone space since it was the OS of choice for mobile phone handset leader Nokia, he said.
"Nokia has marketshare in handsets -- and that's going to influence the development community," Silver said.
Silver said Remora development belonged to the 'old school' of coding - meaning they preferred to work with programs they customised completely. However, a more rigorous, thorough job would likely create more reliable applications.
"We prefer to hand-write it rather than using graphical IDs to design apps. In our view, it might take a bit longer, but our apps are far more predictable," Silver said.
Laurie Wong, business manager for software products at Sun Microsystems Australia, also said .NET was a long way from market dominance. Meanwhile, J2EE had been allied with "maybe all the major vendors bar two" -- such as IBM, BEA, Oracle, Siebel and "even SAP".
Wong said enterprise applications needed to be more tweakable and more rigorously coded and edited than those for SMBs. Microsoft's .NET was experiencing the growing pains of an application that had just entered the corporate market.
"The thing about .NET is it hasn't proven itself in the big bad world with large-scale enterprise applications. They haven't been able to scale above a certain level," Wong said.
Meanwhile, Java had 550 million Virtual Machines on desktops globally, 300 million Java cards "out there, being used" and three million J2EE developers, he said.
J2EE's advantage was that it used an open-source-type development model to have "many more eyeballs" checking for bugs and "looking through stuff than [Microsoft] has". That in itself was likely to lead to a better product, Wong said.
Further, Microsoft was having to move from component-modelling style of programming to object-oriented programming with .NET.
"And that's quite a big ask," Wong said. "They have come from a less disciplined world to a more disciplined world and maybe find that discipline daunting. But we find hygiene is always a good thing."
As time went on, Microsoft .NET would mature, become more complex and require more tweaking - just as Office had over the years.
"Look at Office. That has become something that's pretty big, with functionality that more than 20 percent of the users never gets used," Wong said. "This claim makes them look like neophytes."
He said Sun's J2EE had some six years head-start on .NET. Developers must work to understand the total business environment, rather than focus on the coding equivalent of "speeds and feeds". "They're important but not the be-all and end-all of everything," Wong said.
Fleur Doidge travelled to the Microsoft partner conference in Queensland as a guest of Microsoft.