Microsoft Boosts Modeling Strategy and Rejoins OMG

Microsoft, as part of its overall initiative to support modeling capabilities, especially in its .NET Framework, today joined the Object Management Group (OMG), a nonprofit organization that fosters integration standards for the enterprise.

The announcement signals a greater openness for Microsoft. Joining the OMG is somewhat like Microsoft's embrace of open Web server standards collaboration when it joined the Apache Software Foundation in July, according to Jeffrey Hammond, senior analyst at Forrester Research.

The OMG is known for a number of modeling approaches under its Meta-Object Framework and Model Driven Architecture (MDA), but its Unified Modeling Language (UML) is perhaps the best known component. UML is "deliberately domain-independent and platform-agnostic," according to an OMG white paper. It creates profiles that other platforms or applications can support.

Microsoft's announcement could indicate that the company is embracing UML, although the company didn't specifically admit to it. Instead, Microsoft has long championed a lightweight modeling approach, called Domain Specific Languages (DSL), as an alternative to UML.

Hammond said it wouldn't surprise him to see UML pop up in the Microsoft world, but that Microsoft probably views UML "as a great DSL for software architects." He added that the Microsoft Visio application "includes UML templates that are quite good." One of the issues for Microsoft early on was the problem of complexity in modeling, and "Microsoft rightly noted that building off UML 2.0 can create some complex tooling for architects and developers," Hammond said.

Still, a Forrester study conducted for Unisys found that three quarters of organizations doing modeling and model-driven development were using the OMG's UML.

UML was originally championed at OMG by Rational, and Microsoft backed it early on with Rational Rose. Later, IBM acquired Rational.

"There were significant differences over modeling, specifically the Model Driven Architecture that the OMG had been promoting," Hammond explained. "Rational was one of the key proponents of UML and they [Microsoft] were very much involved with Rational in the early days. They actually shipped a limited edition of Rose in Visual Studio back in the 1998 time frame, and were very much pro-UML, but that changed and they moved away from it for a variety of reasons."

Microsoft currently has two of its own model-driven development technologies -- Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) and ASP.NET model-view-controller -- which developers can use now. Those technologies will be part of "Oslo," a broad Microsoft modeling integration effort under development, as well as Visual Studio "Rosario," according to Microsoft's announcement. Rosario is the planned Team System version that will follow Visual Studio Team System 2008.

Microsoft's Chairman Bill Gates had talked a little about Oslo, and about integrating "additional support for UML in Visual Studio 10," at Tech-Ed in June. Visual Studio 10, formerly code-named "Hawaii," is the next release of that development environment after Visual Studio 2008.

Bob Muglia, Microsoft's senior vice president for the Server and Tools Business, provided a teaser about Oslo in a Microsoft-distributed video, but he said that more details will have to wait until Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in late October, which will be held in Los Angeles.

"A part of Oslo we're building is a repository to store models, a set of tools that let people create models very easily and a language that allows people to write models out in a textual form," Muglia said in the video.

Muglia added that a Community Technology Preview (CTP) version of Oslo will be delivered around the same time as the Professional Developers Conference.

Microsoft plans to contribute to standards development at the OMG and has already been working with the OMG's finance group to address "information models for insurance business functions," according to its announcement.

Microsoft is actually rejoining the OMG. The company broke off membership when the OMG was fostering its CORBA protocol vs. Microsoft's COM protocol about five or more years ago. Microsoft will join at the top level, at $70,000 per year, explained Bill Hoffman, president of OMG. However, Microsoft will contribute a lot more by adding its personnel to the effort.

"The high point is it kinds of validates where we've been working for in the last several years," Hoffman said. "And I think that having a company with the stature of Microsoft participating in our process is good for everybody."

Hoffman emphasized that OMG really focuses on the needs of vertical industries. For them, it's a heterogeneous world where lots of disparate systems have to work together. The OMG's focus is enabling portability for vertical industries, and that is somewhat new ground for Microsoft to trod, compared with competitors like IBM and others.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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