Microsoft Talk About Modeling Triggers Deja Vu

News Analysis: The pieces Microsoft needs for its modeling strategy just might be falling into place.

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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