Microsoft Extends Visual Studio 2005 Modeling For Customization

systems integrators

On Tuesday, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant demonstrated a new framework and toolset that will enable partners to build custom visual designers and domain-specific language designers using Visual Studio 2005 Team Edition, Microsoft said. The technology was shown off at at the ACM Conference on Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages and Applications (OOPSLA) in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Microsoft released a Community Technology Preview (CTP) of the framework and tool that systems integrators can plug directly into Visual Studio's modeling technology, code-named Whitehorse, to create visual designers for specific domains, thereby enabling faster development and deployment of applications for their clients.

The effort, an expansion of the Visual Studio Integration Partner (VSIP) Program and part of a larger industry initiative aimed at creating software factories, is viewed as a big win for systems integrators and channel partners who were concerned that the team edition of Visual Studio 2005--and Microsoft's expanded toolset push--would minimize the role partners play in the application development process.

The new framework, for example, will enable systems integration partners, including Unisys, Siemens, EDS and Capgemini, to develop custom modeling tools for horizontal or vertical business processes and take on IBM Global Services, said sources.

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"Microsoft's support for the incorporation of Domain Specific Languages (DSL) and related visual designers into Visual Studio is a welcome and important innovation," said John Parkinson, Chief Technologist for the Americas Region of Capgemini.

"DSLs represent the next generation of productivity and speed to deployment for a wide range of vertically-oriented automation scenarios. Integrating multiple third party DSL capabilities into Virtual Studio.Net allows developers to leverage tools and processes they are already familiar with and simultaneously get additional, focused performance improvements for specialized applications."

Other integrators agreed. "A lot of methodologies already exist, and you just expose artifacts to them," said John Warner, global lead partner and vice president for Horizontal Microsoft Solution Practice at Unisys. "We're working with Microsoft to take our business blueprinting stuff."

Another systems integrator is creating custom modeling tools for clients. "We are working on an agile method for custom .Net development for medium-sized projects, defined as those under 20,000 hours total effort and six months duration," said one integrator who requested anonymity. "You will be able to plug in reference use cases and other components from different industry/process domains if you have them, but the core method is agnostic."

Microsoft acknowledged that its original plans to make the Whitehorse modeling component in Visual Studio 2005 Team System a tool for enabling corporate developers and business analysts to collaborate didn't pan out, but the extensibility announced on Tuesday will fill that need.

"It was originally our goal to build out the business-process analysis [into Whidbey] but version 1.0 won't do that," said Prashant Sridharan, lead product manager of Visual Studio 2005, noting that business people have other tools at their disposal for modeling and now can access new ones from third parties.

"The BizTalk designer is built on the same engine as Whitehorse. At the same time, we expect a number of ISVs and third-party partners that sprout up and take the extensibility model and build their own business-process analysis. Unisys is creating a number of designers for all of their practices."

The Software Development Kit (SDK), now available for download, will enable partners to develop service-oriented applications on the .Net Framework with visual design tools that focus developers on solutions for specific domains.

Systems integrators said they are contributing process descriptions such as work breakdown structures and deliverable definitions and templates in XML format that can be loaded in the Team Services platform and used to create project plans that can be executed by Team Services.

Such code would automatically load the tools needed, give an estimate of how long it should take, alert assigned peer reviewers, schedule review sessions; collect effort expended; and report to project manager.

Some of the resulting code will be integrated into Visual Studio 2005 and other code will be used in proprietary fashion.

This Microsoft effort is part of a larger industry initiative to create software factories that customers and partners can use to reduce the cost and accelerate the deployment of Web service and application development.

It mimics the approach IBM is attempting with its Rational toolset, but Microsoft is employing partners to deliver domain expertise, observers said.

Kinzan, an ISV in Carlsbad, Calif., is developing an updated version of its Visual Studio add-in Kinzan Studio that will build on the forthcoming modeling framework in Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Team System, Kinzan executives said. The updated Kinzan add-in is expected to be available in the fall of 2005, soon after the release of Microsoft Visual Studio 2005, the executives added.

"Systems integrators are one best positioned to take advantage of this product," said James O'Leonard, Kinzan's vice president of marketing. "They have focus on process and discipline."

It's an add-on to Visual Studio's IDE. MW2 Consulting, a Microsoft systems integrator in Sunnyvale, Calif., is using it to build Web applications for clients.

When Microsoft's .Net plans were first unveiled in 2001, a number of pioneering Web service startups"-including Avinon and Bowstreet--popped up with software factory platforms but were too early to market and did not plug into popular IDEs.

Still, the executives from the former Avinon announced a new company last August called Apptero that develops a plug-in to Office and Visual Studio to allow business analysts to do better application planning.

Apptero executives said Microsoft is giving both systems integrators and ISVs plenty of room to add value and make money.

"There is essentially a methodology template available in Visual Studio 2005 Team System that can be customized or created new to model rules and policies, business processes or best practices and gating workflow steps," said David Ruiz, vice president of marketing at Apptero, Oakland, Calif. "We plan to own our own Apptero Methodology Template as part of our integration with Visual Studio Team System."

BARBARA DARROW contributed to this story.