Microsoft focuses on apps modeling

Microsoft is looking to extend visual modeling of applications in its Visual Studio 2005 platform, with an early release of technology to enable developers to author industry-specific modeling tools.

Visual modeling technologies, featuring a framework and tool, was unveiled at the OOPSLA (Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications) conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Tuesday in the form of a "Community Technology Preview" available for developer review. The preview will function with the refresh of Visual Studio 2005 Beta 1 and functions on top of Microsoft's Whitehorse visual designer technology. The technology will be generally available with the release of Visual Studio 2005 Team System next year.

With the modeling technologies, developers can build for specific product areas, such as retail or financial services, said Prashant Sridharan, lead product manager for Visual Studio. Microsoft's modeling technologies will be like its Web Services Designer tool, which is a domain-specific designer. "We expect that our customers and our partners will also want to create their own modeling tools for their own problem domains," such as health care, Sridharan said.

Modeling tools provide a visual way of building applications and show how the application will work prior to actually implementing it, said Sridharan. "A picture's worth 1,000 words," he said.

An analyst described Microsoft's new modeling functionality as valuable. "It will allow partners to add additional modeling capabilities to Team System in a standardized (way), and tightly integrate them with the rest of the development life cycle," said analyst Carl Zetie, vice president at Forrester Research.

The new technology is intended to better enable users to adapt Visual Studio 2005 and the .Net Framework to meet specific business needs, according to Microsoft. Organizations will be able to build domain-specific language designers intended to automate redundant tasks within targeted "problem domains," or industry-specific areas, the company said.

Domain-specific languages are part of an industry initiative called Software Factories. Microsoft, while saying Software Factories are years away, describes the concept as providing a faster, less expensive, and more reliable approach to application development by increasing the level of automation in application development, using visual languages for quick assembly and configuration of framework-based components.

Additionally, Microsoft on Tuesday is announcing partnerships with other companies that will build customized designers for use with Visual Studio, such as Borland's unveiling of designers for UML 2.0. While companies such as Borland have hailed UML 2.0, Microsoft views it as of being of limited interest to developers.

"Our research shows that it's not a lot of people" interested in UML 2.0, Sridharan said.

Other companies participating include Unisys, which is building designers for multiple industries, and Siemens, which plans to offer a designer for medical imaging device applications.

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