Microsoft looks to test WinFX tools on live apps

Microsoft last week released what it described as "go live" beta versions of development tools for building Web services and workflow-enabled applications under the company's upcoming WinFX programming model.

The Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF) tools are due for commercial release later this year as part of the launch of Microsoft's Windows Vista client operating system. But the updated beta releases have been put through additional reliability testing for software developers who want to deploy applications now, said Ari Bixhorn, director of Web services strategy at Microsoft.

In addition, Microsoft hopes that the new releases will generate more feedback about WCF and WWF from users who test the tools in real-world IT environments. "We want developers to really kick the tires," Bixhorn said.

WCF is designed to aid developers in creating server-based applications that use Web services to link companies with customers, suppliers and other business partners. The WWF software provides a workflow engine and a set of tools for building automated and manual business processes into server applications. Easier to Use

Mark Nixon, a lead systems architect at Emerson Process Management, said the St. Louis-based company has been using WCF for the past 18 months to help write code that controls the industrial machinery it sells.

Nixon said WCF is more secure than the integration tools offered with previous Microsoft development frameworks, such as .Net and Component Object Model. The new tool is also easier to work with because it simplifies otherwise laborious tasks, he said.

"I can now have my software turn a monitor off without writing all sorts of low-level plumbing code," Nixon said, adding that his team has reduced development times by up to 25% with WCF.

Even so, Nixon said Microsoft could further improve ease of use for WCF. "They've done a lot, but there's still a lot to do," he said.

Although the WinFX components were initially being tailored for Windows Vista and other future releases of the operating system, applications built with the tools should now be able to run on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, said Jason Bloomberg, an analyst at ZapThink in Waltham, Mass.

WinFX is an object-oriented superset of the .Net Framework technology that will replace the Win32 application programming interface (API). The third component of WinFX is Windows Presentation Foundation for designing user interfaces. Bixhorn said Microsoft isn't releasing a go-live version of that tool, because developers feel less pressure to start testing the applications they're building with the client-side technology.

The new programming model will be made available this year for Windows Server 2003 and the Service Pack 2 release of Windows XP in addition to Windows Vista, Bixhorn said. He noted that Microsoft is using the WinFX tools internally to develop upcoming versions of its SharePoint Portal Server and BizTalk Server products.

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