Microsoft's mission to "democratize" application lifecycle tools is moving into the creation and management of workflows with Windows Vista, the Office 12 family and business software.
Microsoft's delayed client operating system will introduce Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF) enabling developers to build workflows for business processes that involve software, without embedding the processes in the actual application. WWF is a set of APIs, runtime and visual development editor.
WWF will be used in Office 12, BizTalk Server and Microsoft's Business Solutions (MBS) enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) software, recently re-branded Microsoft Dynamics.
Developers will build workflows using the visual editor with the forthcoming Visual Studio 2005, expected on November 7. Developers will be able to construct, modify and debug workflows using a graphical, drag-and-drop interface with the editor. Microsoft released the WWF first beta at its Professional Developers' Conference (PDC) on Tuesday with final delivery due in the second half of 2006.
The creation and management of workflows has become a topical issue as the industry moves to construct service-oriented architectures (SOAs). A key issue has been to remove workflow from the application, where it has been traditionally coded, so the application is not wedded to a single transaction and can be re-used.
Tools vendors and platform providers like IBM have delivered tools that help companies construct workflows, but these are not always considered simple to use.
Microsoft's move into workflows comes as it tries to generally tackle application lifecycle management (ALM), a process it considers too complicated and too "high-end". Microsoft believes its planned ALM tools in Visual Studio 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 Team System (VSTS) will be sufficiently simple to use and available at a price point that makes them suited to more of a mass market.
Dennis Pilarinos, WWF program manager, said tight integration between WWF and Visual Studio would enable developers to become "immediately effective" in building workflows using .NET languages like C# and Visual Basic.
"In the past you had to write a customized workflow infrastructure - Windows Workflow Foundation completely changes that. It will make it simpler to create and modify workflow in applications because it's just another .NET name space."
Abhay Parasnis, WWF product unit manager, told The Register Microsoft is taking workflow mainstream by making it more accessible to regular Windows developers, and by ensuring the framework is not tied to specific vertical scenarios. "Millions of users will start using workflow the day this thing ships," he claimed.
"We see workflow going mainstream as a pervasive framework that's part of the application development process... you will use a uniform and consistent API" to build workflows. ®