Microsoft will finalize its Visual Studio .NET developer product next month and will ship it in February, according to sources. But the biggest news about this suite is the addition of an optional component--referred to internally as Visual Java .NET--that will add support for the controversial Java programming language to Microsoft's premier development tool. Microsoft has shipped Java language products in the past but had said that the company was walking away from Java because of legal problems with the language's owner, Sun Microsystems. But now Java is apparently on tap for the next iteration of Visual Studio.

Before Microsoft finalizes Visual Studio .NET, however, the company will launch a release candidate version at this month's Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles. This release will include near-final versions of the .NET Framework development library and a new software development kit (SDK) for .NET My Services, previously code-named HailStorm. After Microsoft finalizes the .NET Framework, it will release the product in service packs for Windows XP and Windows 2000 early next year; future Windows versions will also incorporate this technology.

Regarding the Java add-on, which Microsoft might market as Visual J# .NET, what prompted Microsoft to reverse course is unclear. Java backers point to the language's popularity, although many other languages, including Microsoft's own Visual Basic, outpace Java. Still, Microsoft will benefit from providing an upgrade path for the people who still use Java. Otherwise, that potential audience might be shut out of the .NET wave, because third-party Java add-ons won't have the widespread adoption of an official Microsoft release. Expect a public beta of this tool soon.