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The Road to 'Oslo'

Developers face a long trek to Microsoft's ambitious "Oslo" modeling vision.

When Microsoft Product Unit Manager Doug Purdy gave his introductory presentation on the "Oslo" modeling project, he didn't have very high expectations.

Oslo is the ambitious Microsoft platform for enabling model-driven development and domain-specific language (DSL) development. Purdy gave a well-attended session outlining Oslo at the 2008 Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in October.

Oslo consists of three primary components: The "M" programming language for authoring data models and DSLs; the "Quadrant" visual tool for interacting with existing models; and a SQL Server-based repository for storing and sharing Oslo models.

"If you walk out of this talk and all you know are these three very simple things, I'll be so happy," Purdy said, before addressing confusion about the project. "Oslo has been a floor wax, a dessert topping -- in fact, I think it washed my car a year ago."

Part of the confusion could be Microsoft's fault. Forrester Research Inc. VP and Principal Analyst Randy Heffner says when Redmond first publicly revealed the Oslo project in October 2007, it scoped out a vision that reached from the textual modeling language to cloud-based infrastructure.

"It was far-reaching. If they had stuck with the same scope that they set with Oslo a year ago, all of PDC would have been about Olso," Heffner says. "Now it's kind of tuned way down to an environment for creating domain-specific languages and doing some more narrowly defined development enhancements around that."

Early Start
Not all developers are sold on the streamlined pitch. According to Roger Jennings, principal at OakLeaf Systems and a database developer, the Oslo SDK community technology preview (CTP) is woefully short on examples of models for existing products. He thinks Microsoft should have waited to release the CTP.

"I would have expected a model to support Entity Data Model. I would have expected integration with Entity Data Model version 1. It wasn't there," Jennings says. "The only sample that I saw that was directly related to data-intensive applications was a simple M language description of the Northwind sample database."

Jennings compares the state of the Oslo CTP to that of Windows Azure, which he describes as "quite well developed."

"You can do something concrete -- you can actually program to Azure," Jennings says. "I don't feel that Oslo is in that position at the present time. I'd be very hard pressed to create a model and actually be able to use it to generate code."

In fact, during his PDC presentation, Microsoft's Purdy warned attendees that the Oslo CTP was "pre-, pre-alpha -- it's raw." One reason for the early rollout of test bits, says Michéle Leroux Bustamante, a Microsoft regional director and chief architect at iDesign Inc., is that developers need to get acquainted with the concept of model-driven development.

"I guess I'd say that developers are going to be a little bit turned around by this approach," she says. "There are going to be a lot of people that maybe this doesn't bring them close enough to the code, if you will."

Roger Jennings, Principal, OakLeaf Systems "You can do something concrete -- you can actually program to Azure. I don't feel that Oslo is in that position at the present time."
Roger Jennings, Principal, OakLeaf Systems

Two in One
Developers are starting the familiarization process, says Burley Kawasaki, director of the Microsoft Connected Systems Division. He says more than 10,000 copies of the CTP have either been downloaded or distributed since the PDC event, and that the MSDN Oslo Developer Center site and forums have seen over 12,000 visitors.

"We've already begun seeing great feedback from these groups. Folks are generally favorable and especially curious about M, in particular the ability to author their own DSLs," Kawasaki writes in an e-mail.

The feedback Microsoft gets from the initial CTP will inform decisions about Oslo deliverables going forward, continues Kawasaki. "We haven't announced anything yet, but plan to soon. You'll hear more in early 2009."

One interesting dynamic of Oslo, says Bustamante, is it seems to pull two distinct audiences: Architects seeking to enable model-driven development and developers and businesses looking for tools to craft purpose-driven DSLs for their domains.

"I think that this is driven by people's interests, right? DSLs are very popular right now, in general, although they're also at the heart of model-driven development. When people already in that space get a whiff of Oslo, they [get excited]," she says.

"I focus more on architecture," she continues, "so I spend more time thinking about the implementations, the process of designing and modeling an application, and what the experience will be like for developers and architects when they build a model first, put code behind the model, and then deploy and execute the model."

Ultimately, Forrester's Heffner is concerned Microsoft isn't being aggressive enough with Oslo. He says the company should be positioning Oslo as "a more powerful way of programming, versus just an aspect of programming."

Oslo should make business developers more productive by eliminating the need to manage low-level code and interfaces, he says, adding: "It should be -- or could be -- the center of a new abstraction level for programming."

That may eventually happen, but it's clear the process of turning today's CTP version of Oslo into a highly abstracted, full-fledged dev platform is years away.

"Some may say this is going to revolutionize how developers work, and I agree with that statement to some extent," Bustamante says. "But I also take that statement with a grain of salt. It's an evolution, not a revolution.

"This is definitely a new way for developers to think about how they approach their jobs," she adds. "It's going to make them extremely productive. But they're going to have to take some time to let it all sink in."

Will 'Dublin' Replace BizTalk?
Microsoft says no, stating the two serve different functions.
by Jeffrey Schwartz

Will Microsoft's new "Dublin" app server extensions replace the company's BizTalk Server? Microsoft says that's not the plan, but a number of developers raised the question at the recent Professional Developers Conference (PDC).

Microsoft released the first community technology preview (CTP) of Dublin at PDC. The company also disclosed its plans to build these extensions in concert with the introduction of its new modeling platform, code-named "Oslo."

According to Microsoft, Dublin will incorporate key components of the new .NET Framework 4.0 -- specifically the second iterations of Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF). In addition to improving scalability and manageability, Microsoft says it will allow Windows Internet Information Services (IIS) to function as a host for apps that use workflow or communications.

At PDC, Product Unit Manager Dan Eshner explained where Dublin fits. In short, if the modeling tool called "Quadrant" in Oslo lets developers create models or domain-specific languages (DSLs), Dublin can be seen as one deployment repository for those models. Dublin is scheduled to ship roughly three months after Visual Studio 2010, Eshner said, and will initially extend Windows Server, though it will ultimately be built into future versions of the platform.

"Dublin really is a hosting environment for WF and WCF services," Eshner said. The goal, he added, was to take the heavy lifting and skill requirements out of invoking WCF and WF services. "You can make these services work without Dublin; you've just got to do some stuff. You've got to get all the configs set up and you've got to do some work, create services out of them," he explained.

Within Visual Studio, Dublin will add project templates, and in the IIS Manager it will add WF- and WCF-management modules. It will also add discovery within the hosting environment, a SQL persistence provider, application monitoring and versioning, partitioning and routing to messaging.

As for whether Dublin will subsume BizTalk Server, Microsoft architect Igor Sedhukhin told attendees he doesn't see that happening. "Dublin is not intended to be an integration server at all," he said. "We aren't trying to put all the adaptors in Dublin. BizTalk is really focused on that integration scenario."

Added Eshner: "We really believe that there are a ton of scenarios on BizTalk that we won't address in Dublin, or you'd have to do a whole bunch of work to make Dublin work in the same kind of way that BizTalk does."

Furthermore, he argued that Dublin won't have the transforms and adaptors found in BizTalk. "BizTalk as an integration server is much more powerful than what you get with an app server like Dublin," he said.

About the Author

Michael Desmond is an editor and writer for 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.

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