Microsoft just shipped the latest release of BizTalk Server and is preparing to launch Visual Studio 2008 with .NET Framework 3.5, but it's already presenting a roadmap to its vision for application development tools coming over the next few years.
Why? Because development – particularly for so-called "composite" applications – is becoming unmanageably complex, officials say. So Microsoft is going to move to "model-driven" development.
That's the message this week out of the company's fifth annual Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and Business Process Conference being held on Microsoft's sprawling Redmond, Wash. campus.
The codename for this new initiative is "Oslo."
"The clock speed of business is dramatically increasing," Burley Kawasaki, director of Microsoft's Connected Systems Division, told InternetNews.com. Therefore, he said, the company is "quadrupling" its investment in SOA technologies as a foundation for much of its future "software plus services" work. That is: on the client, on the server, and "in the cloud," officials said.
The term "composite application" has been applied to everything from "mash-ups," where developers quickly hack together components of multiple Web services to create a new application, to hooking components of enterprise applications together to create a more complex app such as a value chain application that extends beyond the boundaries of the corporation to other business partners.
While it has made a lot of noise in the consumer space recently, this time Microsoft is talking strictly business. It's no surprise then that a key component of Oslo is BizTalk Server. But, while the company is giving projected version numbers for several products, they are really only placeholders. Microsoft officials say they have not officially named any of the products so far – partly because most of the latest vision is so far out into the future.
In fact, while some pieces of the new initiative will begin to see the light of day in 2008 and 2009, Oslo really is a multi-year, multi-phase project that revolves around five key products, and could take five years or more to completely deliver.
"Oslo is not a product but a project to update Microsoft technologies for service-oriented architectures, and for composite applications built on those architectures," Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft, says in his analysis of the project.
Central to that vision is BizTalk Server – Microsoft's main composite application development platform for enterprise developers. "BizTalk really anchors our SOA investments," Kawasaki said.
Oslo will be delivered through BizTalk Server "6," BizTalk Services "1," Visual Studio "10," the .NET Framework "4," and System Center "5," according to a company backgrounder.
"We are building a general purpose modeling language, tools, and repository to bridge across all the models within an application, moving models to the center of application development. Models will no longer just describe the application, they will be the application," the backgrounder states.
In order to support the new scheme, BizTalk Server, Visual Studio, and System Center will all share the same metadata repository "for managing, versioning, and deploying models." Additionally, capabilities for handling a composite application's entire lifecycle will be provided across the three products.
The .NET Framework currently supports two key Microsoft technologies – Windows Communications Foundation (WCF) and the Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF). BizTalk Server 6 will also add support for WCF and WWF.
In version 4, the .NET Framework will be expanded to handle model-driven development. So will Visual Studio 10, besides adding further application lifecycle management capabilities in Visual Studio Team System.
Meanwhile, BizTalk Services 1 will provide "commercial release of hosted services that enable cross-organizational composite application scenarios ... including expanded capabilities around hosted messaging, identity and workflow capabilities," the backgrounder says. At the conference, Microsoft officials demonstrated an upcoming community technology preview of Microsoft BizTalk Services.
"If they're successful, Oslo would have a profound affect on how we design, deploy, and operate applications," Nick Gall, vice president in the enterprise architecture research team at Gartner, told InternetNews.com.
Directions on Microsoft's Helm largely agrees. "I think it's a good move on Microsoft's part," Helm told InternetNews.com. "Microsoft is telling people there's one right way to do [SOA and composite apps] and we're going to get there with Oslo."
However, model-driven development has been tried before – notably by IBM's Rational tools group, which has championed the Unified Modeling Language (UML). Microsoft is not going to go the UML route but hasn't said precisely what its modeling language (or languages) will be.
Both analysts say that one of the problems with previous attempts and existing products is that they use multiple models and create a profusion of complexity. "It's just too complex for mere mortals," Gall said.
"One of the things about Oslo is that Microsoft's goal is [to make it] a lot more natural for the average developer," Gall added. "They're saying, 'We're going to do meta modeling and you won't even know you're doing it."