Despite persistent denials that it was working on a new programming language, Microsoft finally unveiled its new C# ("C sharp", code-named COOL) language this week. According to Microsoft, C# combines the power of C++ with the ease of use of Visual Basic, offering developers a language that looks suspiciously like Java. But C# is going where Java fears to tread, a standards body: Microsoft also announced that it had submitted the C# specification to the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA ) so that it can become an open standard. C# was designed to give developers a way to more closely model the loose object-oriented structure of COM components, something that was difficult in C++. And the company says that it will play a key part in its new Dot Net initiative.

"This is a language specifically designed for C++ developers who want to be more productive and who need to take advantage of the growing possibilities for the exchange of information and services over the Internet," says Bill Dunlap, the lead product manager for Visual Studio.

While C#'s language features will be of interest to software developers, it is Microsoft's work with the ECMA that is drawing the most attention. Microsoft says that the ECMA's support will lead to standardization through the International Standards Organization (ISO). Microsoft says that standardization will allow other vendors to create new versions of C# that run on a variety of platforms. The final release of C# is expected later this year, though Microsoft will supply more details at its Professional Developers Conference in July