Microsoft and the 'Unwanted Modeling Language'

Microsoft's off-and-on relationship with the Unified Modeling Language illustrates how the company both competes with and supports various technologies. At first Microsoft refused to support UML, but when the company set its sights on software modeling as a core focus, developer demand for UML proved too strong to ignore. At Microsoft TechEd, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates preannounced Microsoft's intent to support UML, and then the company announced plans to support UML in Visual Studio and via the Microsoft modeling technology code-named Oslo. UML co-creator Grady Booch says he is happy to see Microsoft come around.

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Although Microsoft seems to have had an off-and-on relationship with the Unified Modeling Language, the company made plain at its recent Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles that Microsoft has a strategy for delivering modeling technology to developers and supporting UML.

Some Microsoft developers have told me that internally UML has been referred to as the "Unwanted Modeling Language." However, with Microsoft's increased focus on modeling and developer demand for UML support, Microsoft found it just too much to ignore. Despite having its own modeling technology in its new "Oslo" modeling software-including a new modeling language known as "M," a new modeling tool called Quadrant and a repository-Microsoft also said it will support UML in its Visual Studio tool set and via Oslo itself.

Grady Booch, co-creator of UML and chief scientist for software engineering in IBM Research, told eWEEK, "I'm very happy with the fact Microsoft has finally seen the light and has joined what has become mainstream." Booch added that he is "delighted Microsoft is back in the modeling fold" and described Microsoft's support for UML as, "Like a cherry on top of the whipped cream on a sundae."

Booch created UML in collaboration with Ivar Jacobson and James Rumbaugh. "When Jim, Ivar and I started UML, Microsoft was the first company we approached, and it was a no-brainer for them," Booch said. "They said yes, they would support it; and they did influence it." However, days before the group approached the OMG (Object Management Group) to push UML for standardization, Microsoft said it could not support it. But the UML group pushed on with the support of companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Texas Instruments, Booch said.

Then, at the North America TechEd Developers conference in Orlando in June 2008, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, in his last public address as a day-to-day Microsoft leader, dropped word that Microsoft would be supporting UML.

Microsoft rejoined the OMG in September and pledged further support for UML. However, for a while, Microsoft sought to pursue a strategy around Software Factories and DSLs (domain-specific languages) that appeared antithetical to UML.

"Now things have come around; they've got some good guys working on their modeling technology like Steve Cook and Don Box," Booch said. Steve Cook is a Microsoft software architect and the company's representative to the OMG. Don Box is a Microsoft distinguished engineer working on the Oslo technology, particularly the "M" language.