Programming Fusion

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2006-11-20 Print this article Print

Programming Fusion

Doug Purdy, Microsofts group program manager for the Connected Systems Division, spoke with eWeek Labs about the fusion of the application- and event-level WF with the companys Windows Communications Foundation (formerly known as "Indigo"). "For me, WF really is our first attempt to up-level the programming experience," said Purdy in Redmond, Wash. "I have a long-term goal that my mother should be able to be a programmer. Its going to be a long time before that happens, but this is a good step."

WF provides an editing environment that rises above the details of which application or which data representation is actually carrying out a task, although the abstraction is not yet as complete as Purdy said he believes it needs to become. "You still have to be aware of what is an if, what is a while," Purdy said.

Crucially, though, WF may lower the barriers between analysts defining processes and programmers implementing them in executable form. "Office [2007] is shipping with integration for document workflows as part of the Office platform, and its part of our goal for business analysts to be able to craft these things," Purdy said. "One of the key things for us is the ability to go in and look at the workflow and mutate it. Processes change, and things get messed up. [With WF,] youll be able to modify the process, pause the workflow and do something different. Thats supported as a first-class thing."

The level playing field on which Microsoft, Adobe and other technology providers are all playing this game is that of XML representations—not just for static data but also for behavior. "Theres a thing called XOML, the XML Orchestration Markup Language," said Purdy of Microsofts approach to declarative representation of workflows. This can be viewed, Purdy said, as a dialect of XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language), which is currently specific to Microsofts Windows Presentation Foundation platform but may find pathways to other platforms as well.

Adobes Whatcott described a similar approach. "Were embracing XML, not just as a data transport but also as an application definition schema with MXML [Macromedias implementation of Multimedia XML], a declarative tag-based abstraction for describing an application. Its a different world when you can open up an XML document and see what an application is going to do, and there are annotations in it, and you can transform it."

The likely result is that application integration will no longer be an opportunity reserved for developers. Microsofts process-level WF can use Web services across multiple platforms: "Were going to build and architect a thing that scales to the large, scales to the federated, scales to the heterogeneous enterprise," said Microsofts Purdy. Nor will integration continue to be a lock-in strategy for platform providers. As Adobes Whatcott put it, developers will be able to "start with the people first."

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at

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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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