Microsoft finalized the Visual Studio .NET developer product late last fall and will ship it to customers this month. The company first launched a release candidate (RC) version at Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2001 in Los Angeles. This release included near-final versions of the Microsoft .NET Framework development library and a new software development kit (SDK) for .NET My Services. Microsoft plans to release the finalized .NET Framework in service packs for Windows XP and Windows 2000 early this year; future Windows versions will automatically incorporate the technology.

The biggest news about this suite, however, is the addition of an optional component: Visual J# .NET, known internally as Visual Java .NET. The component adds support for the controversial Java programming language to Microsoft's premier development tool, though J# .NET programs can run only within the .NET Common Language Runtime (CLR) and can't use conventional Java runtime environments.

Microsoft has shipped Java language products in the past but had said it was walking away from Java because of legal problems with the language's owner, Sun Microsystems. What prompted Microsoft to reverse course is unclear. Java backers point to the language's popularity, but many other languages, including Microsoft Visual Basic (VB), outpace Java. Still, Microsoft can only benefit from providing an upgrade path for Java users.