After several years pursuing a modeling tool strategy focused on Domain Specific Languages (DSLs), Microsoft is broadening its approach to include more UML-related modeling tools. How these tools will work under the umbrella of the company's emerging Oslo meta modeling strategy appears to still be a work in progress.
On Tuesday last week, Microsoft announced that Visual Studio Team System 2010 will have a Team Architect tool designed to be used by not only architects, but application developers, database developers and testers. The Team Architect tool will fit into the Oslo modeling platform for composite applications, according to the announcement.
On Wednesday, Microsoft announced the new preview release of modules for the Dublin composite application platform for service-oriented architecture, Web 2.0, and RESTful development, which can be modeled with Oslo.
Asked how the modeling tools in Visual Studio 2010 will interact with the Oslo modeling platform, Cameron Skinner, product unit manager, Visual Studio Team System 2010, said: "We're still early in our thinking about this. The plan right now is that at a bare minimum they will interoperate."
As part of the Dublin announcement Burley Kawasaki, director of Microsoft's connected systems division, refined the earlier definition of Oslo. He said it will consist of three modules: the repository for storing models; the declarative language to define the import and export models out of the repository, and a new set of modeling tools that allows developers to compose and assemble disparate models together to create an application.
Shedding light on the current thinking at Microsoft, Skinner said the VSTS 2010 teams creating UML diagrams in the Team Architect product, will be able to interchange models with the Oslo repository and vice versa.
"That interop is the bare minimum of what we want to provide," Skinner said. "We want to do better than that but we're early in thinking about this."
"They just haven't gotten there yet," said David Chappell, principal of Chappell & Associates in San Francisco, when asked about the current status of integrating Oslo with VSTS 2010 and Team Architect. "I think they haven't decided how Visual Studio and Oslo are going to work together."
Chappell said the Oslo and Visual Studio integration will be important because while work flows can be modeled in Oslo, new artifacts have to be created in Visual Studio.
"You've got to use Visual Studio to write the code but I can use Oslo modeling tools to assemble created artifacts into a work flow," Chappell said.
Integration for doing that is already in the early release of Oslo, Chappell said. He anticipates that at some point the VSTS 2010 and Team Architect will be similarly integrated.
While the name and the broad outline of VSTS 2010 was announced last week, Dave Mendlen, director of the MS Developer Division, noted that, unlike Dublin and Oslo, the new VSTS 2010 modules are not yet ready for preview release.
Top down and bottom up
The vision for the modeling tools favorably impresses Martin Woodward, senior software engineer, Teamprise, a division of SourceGear LLC.
"From what I have seen of the new modelling tools, I have to admit that I am very excited," Woodward said. He noted that he was not a fan of earlier Microsoft modeling initiatives dating back to 2005. But he finds that since then the Microsoft people have concentrated on looking at what the architects job is and are trying to design tools to help them.
Woodward said Microsoft's embrace of UML and recent affiliation with the Object Management Group is also a step in the right direction.
"UML is the lingua franca of the architecture world, and with Microsoft's recent announcement about joining the OMG they are showing that they recognize this," Woodward said.
Microsoft's Mendlen said Team Architect will not only allow for design of a new applications but will allow developers to analyze an existing application so they can see the architecture before beginning a project to add modules or modify code. This top down and bottom up capability is one of the things that impresses Woodward.
"The thing that impresses me most about the 2010 release of Team System Architecture Edition is that they are catering for both the top-down architecture design and well as bottom-up 'show me what was actually done' activities that a software architect finds themselves doing day to day," Woodward said. "The product is also much more suited to 'real life' architectures than its predecessor, architectures that may be delivered over a number of technologies and platforms – not all necessarily using Microsoft product stacks."
While the nitty gritty of Oslo and Team Architect are still being worked out at the bits and bytes level, Woodward say Microsoft appears to be on the right path.
"If Microsoft delivers half of what they are talking about with Visual Studio Team System 2010, then they will truly revolutionize this market, Woodward said. "Everything I have seen about it to date makes me think that this is going to be a game-changing product."