Microsoft Embraces Modeling

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2003-08-25

Microsoft Embraces Modeling

Microsoft Corp. is taking steps to embrace and extend another standard development technology, this time in the modeling arena.

The Redmond, Wash., company is developing its own model-driven architecture for a future release of its Visual Studio .Net development environment. The new architecture will be based on the UML (Unified Modeling Language) standard, sources said.

Chief Software Architect and Chairman Bill Gates has publicly described the companys goals to add support for model-driven development to Microsoft products leading up to the release of the companys "Longhorn" operating system, expected in 2005.

UML is a standard modeling language for documenting data and processes in software systems. Rational Software Corp., now a part of IBM, led the development of the standard.

The UML-based framework promises to make development easier, but it could also invite trouble. Previous attempts to extend technologies have led to splintering of developer camps. Microsoft is still locked in a legal battle with Sun Microsystems Inc. over Java that began in 1997.

However, some observers see Microsoft taking a more inclusive approach with UML, as the company has done with XML—adhering to the standard specification but adding extensions that make applications built with Microsoft technology run best on Microsoft platforms.

The last thing that the modeling community needs as it seeks adoption of UML 2.0 is splintering, said a source who requested anonymity. "They have absolutely nothing to gain by doing their own UML language," he said.

The Microsoft modeling language variation is expected to be delivered in the "Orcas" version of Visual Studio .Net, which is scheduled to ship with Longhorn. The next version of Visual Studio .Net is code-named Whidbey and will be distributed in beta at Microsofts Professional Developers Conference in October. An initial version of Microsofts modeling technology will appear in Whidbey.

Next page: Microsoft takes "leap forward" with Whitehorse.

Microsoft Makes Leap

Whidbey will contain more advanced modeling tools than its current crop in a set of technologies the company calls "Whitehorse."

"We have clearly model-based programming in Visual Studio today with the Visio designer," said Eric Rudder, Microsofts senior vice president of servers and tools, in an interview with eWEEK. "And we will take quite a leap forward in [Whidbey]. Whitehorse will ship as part of Whidbey, and youll see integration, not just of better tools for UML modeling, but also some of the beginnings of the vision that we started to articulate around SDM [System Definition Model]."

To fuel its drive into modeling, Microsoft has been amassing a core of top-level UML and modeling talent, just as the company has done in XML and Web services, sources said. Over the past year, Microsoft has hired a series of UML experts, including four who previously worked for Rational: Jochen Seemann, Wojtek Kozaczynski, Jack Greenfield and Ed Eykholt.

Grady Booch, chief scientist at Rational and co-author of UML, told eWEEK that he has spoken with Gates about modeling support.

"Microsoft recognizes, like IBM, that the platforms that are out there are wonderful, but theres still a tremendous semantic gap between what those platforms provide and what people actually have to deliver," Booch said. "So a lot of the energy thats going on in the tool space is bridging that gap. And as Bill is reporting, modeling is an important piece of bridging that gap."

Booch would not comment on the issue of "em-brace and extend." "Were very delighted that Microsoft is em-bracing the notion of modeling. We think its a good idea, and were glad theyve come around to it."

Brian Lyons, chairman and co-founder of Number Six Software Inc., an Arlington, Va., software development outsourcing company that works with UML, addressed the issue of adhering to the standard. "UML was designed to support extensibility. I am all for vendors extending the language within the bounds of the specified extension mechanisms; it is what will keep UML alive and relevant to various communities."

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