Microsoft Preps Sparkle Kin

Will release more designer tools aimed at Web services

Microsofts "sparkle" is set to get some new cousins. Following up on its recent release of the first preview of Sparkle, its designer tool for creating applications for Windows Vista and the Web, the company is currently at work building designers for other core infrastructure pillars of its platform.

In an interview at the VSLive conference here, S. "Soma" Somasegar, Microsofts corporate vice president of developer tools, said the company is following up its Expression suite of designer tools with new designer tools for both its future Web services platform—WCF (Windows Communication Foundation), aka "Indigo"—and the upcoming WWF (Windows Workflow Foundation).

Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at Citigate Hudson, in New York, who was in attendance at VSLive , said, "A designer for workflow is absolutely necessary. ... The whole thing is visual. Workflows consist of steps and activities, and they have to be mapped out visually."

This is the first time Microsoft has made mention of its intent to provide additional design support. Connecting the group of designer tools will be a common language, or lingua franca, but it will not necessarily be XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language), which is what connects the three WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) designer tools in the Expression suite.

"There is a workflow designer" in the works, Somasegar said. "That is one designer we will have for workflow applications. Likewise, well have to build an Indigo designer or extend the designers we already have in Visual Studio."

Somasegar said part of Microsofts strategy "will be making sure our tool set has designers for the WinFX platform."

However, "Indigo is where well have to spin up some more effort and time before we can show it to people," he said. "The thing people should know is these designers make their lives as developers easier. Lets say Im on the bleeding edge, and I want to write an application today for Avalon and Indigo and Workflow Foundation. I can do that today with Visual Studio 2005. Life may be a little bit hard because I have to write that code as opposed to the designer emitting code."

Meanwhile, an internal Microsoft developer at the show acknowledged that there will be a WCF designer, essentially a tool that allows developers to specify the data contract and the methods or functions exposed. "Think of it as a class designer for services," said the developer, who asked not to be named for this story.

Microsoft is beginning to approach development somewhat differently, based on lessons learned in building Visual Studio 2005, said Russ Ryan, product unit manager of the Developer Division Customer Product Lifecycle Experience Team at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash.

Ryan said Microsoft is trying to "move to a model where we have 100 percent automated tests" for testing its new products. He said the current Visual Studio 2005 test covers more than 10 million tests, with 9,000 servers in the lab, and a full test pass takes 21 days.

Meanwhile, Ryan said Microsoft is moving to what the company calls Feature Crews to build features into its products. Feature Crews are small, interdisciplinary teams that "own an entire feature to design, code, test and deliver specific product features," he said. And the crew cannot check its code until the feature is complete.

Microsoft also is moving to Scenario-Driven Design for its development teams, Ryan said. Scenario-Driven Design is a concept pioneered by the Office team. Under the concept, the development team selects a specific customer scenario and develops a detailed end-to-end analysis of solutions to the issues raised in the scenario, he said.

Microsofts new designer tools

In preview

* Sparkle Development tool for WPF graphics- oriented applications

Under development

* Indigo designer A tool for designing WCF applications

* Workflow designer A tool for designing WWF applications