Oslo: How 'Easy' Is Easy?

Microsoft is working to make distributed computing easier and to make building distributed applications easier. The software giant is driving toward this goal via software modeling and its new "Oslo" platform. The company will be providing an early look at the first Oslo deliverables at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in October.

Microsoft's Connected Systems Division is working on giving users a less complicated experience when it comes to distributed computing.

I had an opportunity to spend a bit of time with some key folks in Microsoft's CSD (Connected Systems Division) recently to have a look at where they're going with distributed computing. And, as expected, they talked at length about "Oslo," the code name for Microsoft's upcoming modeling platform.

Oslo consists of a repository, a visual tool and a new declarative language. In a Microsoft PressPass interview, Oliver Sharp, the general manager of Microsoft's Connected Server team, and one of the guys I met with, said of Oslo:

""'Oslo' is the codename for Microsoft's forthcoming modeling platform. Modeling is used across a wide range of domains and allows more people to participate in application design and allows developers to write applications at a much higher level of abstraction. 'Oslo' consists of a new modeling tool (which helps people visually interact with models in rich and intuitive manner), a new modeling language (which allow developers to efficiently define domain models in a form that is natural to the author) and a new repository (which provides a shared store for linking together all of the various model artifacts that describe an application across both design and runtime).""

One of the driving forces behind Microsoft's move to modeling is to enable "more people to participate" in the distributed application development process, as Sharp said. Indeed, Sharp says he will not be satisfied until his mother can build distributed applications. And he went on to describe how things like word processors and e-mail were once difficult to use, but now both are commonly used daily by people like his mother. Microsoft will be unveiling Oslo at its PDC (Professional Developers Conference) in October.

David Chappell, principal of Chappell & Associates, a software development expert who has been briefed on parts of Microsoft's "Oslo" strategy, said Microsoft is using the term modeling in a different way than its classic sense or that of technologies such as the UML (Unified Modeling Language). "Microsoft has sometimes used the word 'model' when describing Oslo. They use the term in the broadest sense: It's an abstract representation of something, Chappell said in a session on Oslo that he presented at the Microsoft TechEd Developers 2008 show in June.

So Microsoft is aiming to use modeling to make it easier to create applications. But the question remains: How easy is easy? All the Microsoft folks I spoke with are highly technical guys. Their "easy" might not be the typical computer user's easy. Brad Lovering, the Microsoft technical fellow who is the lead architect behind the Oslo effort, said if you know Microsoft's Access application you will be right at home using the new Oslo tool to create applications.

Sources said the Oslo tool is aimed at power users and business analysts. Lovering said Microsoft will continue to evolve its tolling for building distributed computing so that it becomes easier and easier for more and more people to use.

At the same time, Microsoft is delivering a new Oslo language. Don Box, a partner architect at CSD who is working on the Oslo language stack, will be presenting a talk on the language at the upcoming PDC. Other Microsoft engineers also will delve even more deeply into the language and its capabilities. In a session entitled "Oslo: Building Textual DSLs," Chris Anderson and Giovanni Della-Libera will take you further into the language. According to the session description: "The 'Oslo' modeling language can define schemas and transformations over arbitrary text formats. This session shows you how to build your own Domain Specific Language using the 'Oslo' SDK [Software Development Kit] and how to apply your DSL [Domain Specific Language] to create an interactive text editing experience."

Meanwhile, another CSD architect and Microsoft technical fellow who was among the folks I met with, John Shewchuk, is slated to deliver a session entitled "A Lap around Building Block Services," which appears to be about the introduction of some of Microsoft's .NET infrastructure into the cloud. The session abstract reads: "Learn about the building block services that enable developers to easily create or extend their applications and services. From consumer-targeted applications and social networking Web sites to enterprise class applications and services, the building block services make it easy for you to give your applications and services the most compelling experiences and features."

It was enlightening to meet with the guys from CSD, which started as an entrepreneurial incubation team under Robert Wahbe, who is the corporate vice president in charge of the division. Wahbe and the rest of the team members I met with, including Box, Shewchuk, Sharp, Lovering and Steven Lucco, a distinguished engineer in Microsoft's Developer Division, all said the two primary backers of the Oslo project were Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, who put the oversight of the project in the hands of Eric Rudder, now senior vice president of technical strategy at Microsoft.