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Microsoft Whips Up .NET UI Library for Teachers

Microsoft continued its push to help acclimate academic computer science programs to its .NET Framework Thursday with a user interface that helps teachers and students use their Java-based curriculum with Visual Studio .NET 2003.

The Microsoft Supplemental User Interface (UI) Library for Visual J# .NET functions somewhat like the 2 JFC Swing specification, a family of Java class libraries provided as part of J2SE to support building graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and graphics functionality for Java applications.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant said it hopes the UI will make it easier for teachers to use curricula based on Swing, with the addition of textbook examples with Visual Studio .NET 2003 and the Microsoft .NET Framework.

With the UI library, teachers who already have Swing-based source code now can adopt Visual J# .NET with few changes to the source code. Students can then use the libraries for programming assignments.

"We liked what we saw in Visual J# .NET, but one critical piece Microsoft needed was support for Swing curricula already in practice today," said Brian Scarbeau, AP Computer Science teacher at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Fla. "They took that feedback to heart and made Visual J# .NET an appealing tool to use in the classroom."

Bridging the gap between .NET and Java is another example of the company's willingness to stray from its usual competitive leanings to cater to large markets.

The offering is the latest in a series of maneuvers Microsoft has been making to court academia with its Visual Studio .NET development platform, which includes the Shared Source Initiative, a program which gives access to the Windows source code to certain customers, partners, developers and academics.

That move came in part because open-source operating system Linux has proven extremely appealing to students, who can test it as they wish. Microsoft's overtures to academia could help keep them from getting frozen out of some lucrative business. Opening up Windows code, therefore, is as much a smart business decision as it is an olive branch.

Microsoft stepped up its offerings to academia this past February by offering a Visual Studio .NET 2003 Academic Edition to U.S. schools in conjunction with professional versions of the development environment.

Microsoft also released a sample application used by the AP Computer Science program in high schools to teach students object-oriented programming techniques. Dubbed the Microsoft MBS Case Study for Visual J# .NET, the application allows students to build "fish classes" that are applied to an aquarium simulation.

The Supplemental UI Library is available as a free download here. The MBS Case Study is available as a free download from the Visual J# .NET Web site