Microsoft Corp., eager to demonstrate an understanding of the Internet, announced several new products and strategies Thursday morning and said it would license the Java programming language.

The endorsement of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java, for designing software that can be easily distributed on electronic networks, marked a rare embrace by Microsoft of a product it did not develop or buy.Microsoft has signed a letter of intent with Sun, the company said.

"What it shows is a willingness on our part to participate in the Internet and take what is out there," said Bill Miller, director of marketing for The Microsoft Network, the company's online service.

Microsoft also formally announced it was changing the on-line service, which became available in August and has signed up 500,000 customers, to be available on the Internet with much of its content given away.

The company invited reporters for a briefing Thursday to counter the perception that it was behind other companies in creating products that let people work with the Internet.

Such products have taken a high profile in the technology industry as usage of the global public data network has swelled. But Internet technical standards are also being used increasingly in data systems of businesses. Corporate programmers are eager for design tools that work both internally and on the public network.

Sun's Java is one of the first such products to gain wide attention. Microsoft plans to alter its Visual Basic programming language to be capable of producing Internet-related products. Visual Basic is now used to create software that works on personal computers run by Micro-soft's Windows operating program.

Earlier this week, Sun said a simpler version of Java, called JavaScript, would go on sale in January. It is designed to be useful to everyday computer users who need to create a specialized function within a program. Microsoft said Thursday it was working on a similar feature with Visual Basic that will be called Visual Basic Script.

While its Internet strategies had been leaked out for several weeks, Microsoft kept people guessing about whether it would endorse Java. Because the program works on any kind of computer, it poses a threat to Microsoft's dominance of the personal computer software business.

"It's not a religious issue with us" that Internet users work only with Microsoft products, said Rich Tong, Microsoft's general manager of product marketing.

The company also said it will re-position its Blackbird product, which had been used to create material for Microsoft Network, as Internet Studio. That way people can use the program to create data to be shared on the World Wide Web. People who want to see Black-bird-authored material would need a special piece of software, however.

Microsoft, which dominates the PC operating system market with Windows, is in an excellent position to capture new software markets but has "missed the boat on this Internet thing," said Josh Bernoff, an industry analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates and others have said no single company will be able to control the Internet. Use of the Internet - especially the World Wide Web - is growing exponentially.