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'M' Is for Re-Modeling

When Microsoft announced in October 2007 that it was introducing a modeling platform for application developers that would permeate almost all of its products and services, some people tried to parse the vague references from company spokespeople to figure out what was to come. Others didn't bother to conceal what amounted to a collective yawn.

Advancing the concept of modeling requires more than having espresso machines at the ready. Getting developers excited about any type of modeling is a hard sell -- especially to enterprise veterans with a "been there, done that, don't really see the benefit" attitude.

Microsoft's re-jiggered approach to modeling is to introduce an app dev platform that enables developers to build data-driven apps using domain-specific languages and/or visual design tools to create an "ecosystem" of models that are stored in a relational repository.

The "Oslo" platform primarily consists of the "M" textual languages, a "Quadrant" visual design tool, an "Intellipad" text editor, documentation, and a SQL Server 2008-based repository for storing domain-specific models and related data.

On Friday, Microsoft released its second "Oslo" preview. The Oslo SDK January 2009 CTP offers bug fixes and adds more features related to the "M" languages (MGraph, MSchema, MGrammar). The first CTP debuted in "the goods" handed out at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in late October, amid an avalanche of technology previews and announcements.

The "Oslo" vision is still hard to grasp: Is this approach similar to a software factory, an effort to enable business analysts to participate in the app dev process or, as Microsoft contends, a larger concept that will improve developer productivity throughout the application lifecycle? What problem is Microsoft trying to solve? If you or someone on your team is trialing the technology, please share your thoughts at [email protected].

Modeling may have a bad rep, but patterns and guidance can definitely help harried app developers. This week, components vendor Infragistics is unveiling a unique Silverlight 2 application called "Quince" UX Patterns Explorer that offers developers best practices in user experience design through patterns.

Named after a South American fruit, Quince offers guidance on common patterns (active filtering, wireframes) for large data entry screens, label alignment and navigation, for example, based on tools and practices that the 20-year-old company uses internally and expertise garnered from other industry sources. Quince aggregates close to 100 patterns, shows implementations via a carousel format on various platforms (ASP.NET, Windows Forms, PHP, etc.) and is set up so that the community can comment on patterns and their experiences in real time.

"More and more attention needs to get paid as to what goes into a user interface and what goes into building an application than just a grid that maybe does multi-column sorting," said Jason Beres, Infragistics' director of product management.

The idea behind Quince is to provide a platform-agnostic community-based tool, not a marketing platform, he said. "We don't give you any source code or any control to use it, because it is really just educating you about the pattern."

Yahoo and Google offer pattern libraries, but there isn't a de facto resource in the .NET/Microsoft space that everyone uses, according to Beres. As people start to understand the importance of UX and design, components are obviously a part of that, he said.

Finally, as former Redmond Developer News Editor in Chief Michael Desmond explained in his special-edition blog on Friday, Redmond Developer News went through its own "remodeling" last week. RDN print content will be integrated with sister publication Visual Studio Magazine. The RDN staff, EIC Michael Desmond, Executive Editor Jeffrey Schwartz and I (the former senior editor) will work on VSM to offer industry context along with the in-depth how-to articles that VSM is well-known for.

RedDevNews.com will continue to follow its charter of hard-hitting analysis, product news, key interviews with Microsoft execs and other industry voices discussing the latest trends, tooling and development strategies to help dev team managers succeed in tough economic times. Please join the conversation to help continue to make this site a valuable resource and community portal.

What types of news, information and community threads would you like to see on RedDevNews.com going forward? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Kathleen Richards on 02/03/2009

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