Big M Details New Tools

Microsoft publicly unveiled Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF), Expression designer tools and Visual Studio Tools for Applications (VSTA), the successor to Visual Basic for Applications (VBA).

The tools present new opportunities for VARs to play in the application and Web services arenas, Microsoft said. The tools debuted as Microsoft also announced last week Release Candidate 1 of its core development platform, Visual Studio 2005, as well as Community Technology Previews of its Windows Vista, Longhorn Windows Server and SQL Server 2005 platforms. The biggest announcement was the beta 1 release of WWF, the anticipated workflow engine and framework that is part of Vista Windows client operating system and its WinFX programming model.

“The Windows Workflow Foundation will benefit the entire stack of Microsoft products and Microsoft partners, whether ISVs or custom developers,” said Andrew Brust, CTO of Citigate Hudson, an application developer in New York. “Partners can embed this engine into their own custom solutions or shrink-wrapped products, and suddenly everyone is working to a common standard,” he said. “Plus, there&s still plenty of room for Workflow ISVs to innovate on top of what WWF provides.”

Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., also disclosed plans to ship a new family of Expression designer tools aimed at bridging the gap between Web designers and corporate developers.

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For the Expression line, Microsoft is developing a graphics designer, code-named Acrylic, that will offer painting, illustration and effects. Another tool, code-named Sparkle Interactive Designer, will handle user interface design. The upcoming Quartz tool will help create Web layout and design.

KLi, a Microsoft VAR and consulting partner, has used Expression to enhance e-learning services for its customers. “This moves the software developer and media developer closer together,” said David Goulet, director of software engineering at LogicBay, which was acquired by KLi. “We can do free-form simulations using video, text, 3-D modeling and animations.”

Microsoft also plans to release in late 2006 an enhanced .Net application customization technology extended for the 64-bit environment, to be called Visual Studio Tools for Applications.

VSTA replaces VBA, which did not allow applications to scale up the enterprise, said KD Hallman, general manager for Visual Studio Tools for Office and Visual Basic .Net. Microsoft will continue to support VBA indefinitely, she said. VSTA can be used by any application developed by ISVs or systems integrators, she said.

At the conference, ISV partner ABB said it plans to integrate VSTA into its next generation of RobotStudio, a robot programming tool.

“Customers started with something small and kept building on it and ran into a ceiling, and that&s why we like the scalability,” said Anders Ekelund, specialist of software development at ABB, Gothenburg, Sweden.

Several systems integrators already are building practices and processes that will enable enterprise clients to embed VSTA in corporate applications, Hallman said. VSTA is expected to ship in the third quarter of 2006.

Microsoft also detailed technology dubbed Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere (WPF/E), seen widely as a form of portable XAML. WPF/E gives developers a subset of the graphics system for use on the .Net Compact Framework-based applications that run on mobile devices and computers others than PCs.

In addition, Microsoft distributed a technical preview of LINQ XML query language extensions for C# and Visual Basic, which give developers a way to query XML or relational data stores without having to write a full XML query.

The preview runs on C# 2.0 and .Net Framework 2.0 and is featured in C# 3.0, which will integrate objects, relational and XML data.

Microsoft also debuted a technical preview of its future AJAX-style development tool. Code-named Atlas, it will allow ASP.Net developers to build rich client technology on the .Net Framework.

Microsoft is already planning technologies for the next-generation release of Visual Studio, code-named Orcas and tentatively slated for a 2008 release. Microsoft C# inventor and developer Anders Hejlberg gave attendees a sneak peek at C# 3.0.