In-Depth

MS Announces Windows Workflow Foundation

Microsoft announced Windows Workflow Foundation, the Expression family of design tools, and Visual Studio Tools for Applications at PDC 2005.

Wednesday's PDC keynote showcased tools that help development teams work at a higher level of abstraction. Microsoft announced Windows Workflow Foundation, the Expression family of design tools, and Visual Studio Tools for Applications. Once again, we will be thinking about our applications a little farther away from the hardware or CPU level.

The keynote, led by Eric Rudder, Microsoft's senior VP of servers and tools, consisted of a series of small demos on many of the initiatives that support this concept: Developers (and graphic designers) will be creating applications by describing them from larger building blocks of content and behaviors.

Windows Workflow Foundation
Windows Workflow Foundation features a workflow engine, programming model, and set of tools for developers to build workflow-enabled applications. It provides a kind of application design surface for workflow modeling, by which you gain a view of your application that displays its workflow. You work at a higher level: The building blocks of the application are sophisticated business actions, not low-level 'if' statements. It will enable developers to envision and create larger, more complicated applications.

Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF) is, at its core, just another .NET namespace. That means you don't lose the ability to work at the lower levels for your application's core IP. And in fact, your teams can build that logic as WWF components.

The end result is that your team will have the tools to create applications that are larger and more complex. The tools will support that vision using the higher-level abstractions that WWF supports. For more information, visit http://msdn.microsoft.com/windowsvista/building/workflow/.

Expression
Rudder also introduced the Microsoft Expression family of tools, which is designed to reduce the complexity and cost of delivering richer user experiences on the Web and Windows Vista platform. The family comprises three products: the Acrylic Graphic Designer, the Sparkle Interactive Designer, and the Quartz Web Designer. (Also see Jeff Hadfield's blog post, "Detente for Designers & Developers: Microsoft's Self-Expression.")

Expression provides two key concepts for development teams working on applications designed for Vista and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF, or Avalon). First, the graphic design tools can compete against Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator in their own right.

Second, and more important, the biggest advantage to these tools is the integration into VS.NET through the XAML format, and sharing project information. Graphic designers can create rich form elements, including animations, and tie those behaviors and graphics elements to user actions. Because the graphics are defined using XAML, WPF automatically understands how to use that description and create the behaviors at runtime. And, it integrates with your business logic so that development teams can create the logic of the application while the designers can create the user experience. The combination of the tools will make the two teams more productive by helping them work as a single team.

Quartz does the same thing for Web page designers. It integrates with the other members of the Expression family so that Web designers can create image assets while looking at the page view. Quartz was also designed to work with ASP.NET pages. As such, it supports CSS editing, XSLT transforms to modify ASP.NET master pages, and even individual page elements. And, the graphic designers do not need to understand XSLT or even CSS to be productive.

The challenge for these products is simple: Photoshop and Illustrator are well-entrenched in the graphic designer market. The path from those tools to XAML is a little more convoluted, but possible. For an example, see this tool: http://www.mikeswanson.com/XAMLExport/.

In a nutshell, Expression is a set of tools aimed at helping designers and developers focus on their core strengths, and work together in tools that support that collaboration. For more information, visit the Expression home page at http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/.

Visual Studio Tools for Applications
Microsoft also announced Visual Studio Tools for Applications (VSTA), which updates Visual Studio for Applications (VSA) for .NET. It allows ISVs to provide a framework for their customers and partners to create additions for the ISVs' applications.

The demo, which showed how AutoCAD built customization into its products using VSTA, focused on how your customers can use VSTA to extend your applications using their favorite .NET language. VSTA will help standardize how users extend standard applications: It will be .NET. That will make it easier for your customers to create extensions for all their applications, by leveraging a common set of tools.

About the Author

Bill Wagner, author of Effective C#, has been a commercial software developer for the past 20 years. He is a Microsoft Regional Director and a Visual C# MVP. His interests include the C# language, the .NET Framework and software design. Reach Bill at wwagner@srtsolutions.com.

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