Microsoft Talk About Modeling Triggers Deja Vu

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2007-11-12

Microsoft Talk About Modeling Triggers Deja Vu

When Microsoft laid out its plans to enable people to do modeling and model-driven development a couple of weeks ago, I got a sense of déjà vu.

It was déjà vu in more ways than one. One was that this is not the first time that Microsoft has made noise about embracing modeling. I remember as far back as 2003, when then Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates publicly said the company was going to pursue modeling as a focus for Microsoft developer products.

That brings forth the other reason I felt déjà vu. Microsoft announced its newfangled plans for modeling at its SOA (service-oriented architecture) and Business Process conference on Oct. 30 during a keynote in building 33 on the companys main campus. Ironically, thats exactly where I saw Gates in 2003 tell an audience of financial analysts about his vision for Microsoft to deliver modeling and model-driven development capabilities to developers through the companys tool set.

That was more than four years ago and Microsoft now has a broad strategy for delivering on this vision, but its still a vision. The new strategy is known by the codename "Oslo."

Now this is not to say that Microsoft has not made progress over the last four years. They have. They started by luring away a lot of modeling talent from competitors, including IBM. And Microsoft launched an effective "Software Factories" initiative that features modeling technology.

Click here to read more about Microsofts software modeling strategy.

Also, crude modeling capabilities appeared in the "Whidbey" (Visual Studio 2005) release of Microsofts Visual Studio tools, and more improved ones will appear in the soon-to-be-released "Orcas" (Visual Studio 2008) version. But Microsoft is saying it will not be until Visual Studio 10 that the core modeling tools will be available. And we dont know when that is coming.

Moreover, the modeling capabilities will not be limited to the Visual Studio toolset. Microsoft said. Indeed, Microsoft will feature the .Net Framework, BizTalk Server, System Center, Team Foundation Server, and SQL Server, among other products as part of its overall modeling strategy.

Donald Ferguson, formerly an IBM Fellow also known as the "Father of WebSphere" came to Microsoft last year to work on the software giants push into service oriented architecture and cloud computing effort.

As part of that, Ferguson said he believed model-driven development would play a key role in empowering Microsofts "software plus services" strategy of delivering on-premise software as well as SAAS (software-as-a-service) offerings in a cloud computing scenario.

"Ive really cared personally about model-driven development and making model-driven development work," Ferguson said in an interview. "I want to try not something thats incremental, but something thats radically new."

That radically new thing is to make modeling palatable to the masses.

"Think Excel," said Robert Wahbe, corporate vice president of Microsofts Connected Systems Division, in an interview. Wahbe said Microsofts new modeling tools will be as simple as Excel, which should be a good thing for users in that Ferguson said he sees people do modeling using Microsofts Word, PowerPoint and Visio tools.

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"As an early part of our Web services and SOA work, we started thinking about modeling the interface," Wahbe said. "The work on Oslo is work that is not necessarily new. We started this back when IBM and Microsoft started working together" on Web services and the Web services standards stack. Ferguson was in the thick of that, albeit for IBM.

Ferguson said he doubts that the industry will ever get to completely executable business models, "but I think you can come close—maybe 80 percent."

He said whats been blocking the widespread adoption of modeling is "modeling is currently hard. And I think the languages that we have to express behavior are complex. When you combine those two things together you can only apply them to big strategic problems…"

So its a situation where, if the current state of technology only allows you to solve one kind of problem, you infer that that kind of a problem is the only one the technology can solve, Ferguson said.

However, "If you had some really good collaborative modeling tools you could use to produce the first couple of versions of an application, I think it would break this logjam," Ferguson said. "It would almost do for applications, what report tools and SQL did for data, which is it didnt replace the need for DBAs [database analysts] or for transaction programmers, but it enabled a large number of people to do a fair number of applications."

Read more here about why Microsoft is giving developers access to the "Orcas" IDE code.

S. "Soma" Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsofts Developer Division, said a variety of products need to be developed to truly enable model-driven development. "VS 10, the next version of Visual Studio, is absolutely a part of that…," he said.

Somasegar said there will be modeling tools that ship in Visual Studio that developers can use that work against the repository.

And there will be multiple repositories, he said.

"For example, I fully expect Team Foundation Server to ship a repository technology," Somasegar said. "TFS is already a repository for source code and other things. What it isnt a repository for today is models. So to the extent that I have a repository technology that understands the ability to store and manipulate model, that technology will ship in Team Foundation Server at some time."

So although its taken some time for Microsoft to get to the point where the company has set this vision for modeling, the tools group, at least, seems pretty set on what it has to do as part of the broad strategy. The rest of the pieces will continue to fall into place with new versions of the various products.

"There is a strong belief that we have to move to a model-driven platform where models are absolutely first-class," Wahbe said. "Its the only way to scale to the kind of cloud services we hope to deliver."

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