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In the past several years, research in each of the wide‐band‐gap semiconductors, SiC, GaN, and ZnSe, has led to major advances which now make them viable for device applications. The merits of each contender for high‐temperature electronics and short‐wavelength optical applications are compared. The outstanding thermal and chemical stability of SiC and GaN should enable them to operate at high temperatures and in hostile environments, and also make them attractive for high‐power operation. The present advanced stage of development of SiC substrates and metal‐oxide‐semiconductor technology makes SiC the leading contender for high‐temperature and high‐power applications if ohmic contacts and interface‐state densities can be further improved. GaN, despite fundamentally superior electronic properties and better ohmic contact resistances, must overcome the lack of an ideal substrate material and a relatively advanced SiC infrastructure in order to compete in electronics applications. Prototype transistors have been fabricated from both SiC and GaN, and the microwave characteristics and high‐temperature performance of SiC transistors have been studied. For optical emitters and detectors, ZnSe, SiC, and GaN all have demonstrated operation in the green, blue, or ultraviolet (UV) spectra. Blue SiC light‐emitting diodes (LEDs) have been on the market for several years, joined recently by UV and blue GaN‐based LEDs. These products should find wide use in full color display and other technologies. Promising prototype UV photodetectors have been fabricated from both SiC and GaN. In laser development, ZnSe leads the way with more sophisticated designs having further improved performance being rapidly demonstrated. If the low damage threshold of ZnSe continues to limit practical laser applications, GaN appears poised to become the semiconductor of choice for short‐wavele- ngth lasers in optical memory and other applications. For further development of these materials to be realized, doping densities (especially p type) and ohmic contact technologies have to be improved. Economies of scale need to be realized through the development of larger SiC substrates. Improved substrate materials, ideally GaN itself, need to be aggressively pursued to further develop the GaN‐based material system and enable the fabrication of lasers. ZnSe material quality is already outstanding and now researchers must focus their attention on addressing the short lifetimes of ZnSe‐based lasers to determine whether the material is sufficiently durable for practical laser applications. The problems related to these three wide‐band‐gap semiconductor systems have moved away from materials science toward the device arena, where their technological development can rapidly be brought to maturity.