UML gains ground

Life would certainly be easier if we all spoke the same language and communicated our thoughts and visualizations in a standard, predictable way. In a relatively short period of time, the Unified Modeling Language (UML) has achieved such a common ground for communication within the software development community.

Even a widely accepted language such as English is riddled with complexities and ambiguities. There are thousands of words in the English language that the average person does not need on a day-to-day basis. Although this may be perceived as a complexity by those learning the language, a staged approach to the learning process typically brings the desired result.

Much like the English language, UML's ambiguities, size and complexity evoke the most common concerns of those learning the modeling language. Adopted as a standard in November 1997 by the Object Management Group (OMG), Framingham, Mass., UML has, for the most part, been eagerly embraced.

One of the primary goals in designing UML, according to Grady Booch, chief scientist at Rational Software Corp., Cupertino, Calif., was to provide a standard language for visualizing, specifying, modeling and documenting the architecture of a system.

A main benefit of UML, Booch said, is that users gain control over the architecture they are building. "The key discriminator between successful and unsuccessful projects is how well architected the system is," he added.

According to Ellen Gottesdiener of EBG Consulting, Carmel, Ind., the benefits of UML outweigh the problems. "A good thing about UML is that we can finally stop arguing about using clouds or boxes, and focus on the process."

EBG Consulting provides training, consulting and facilitation services, with a focus on process and business rules, for companies adopting UML. "UML takes away the semantics of modeling, so that we can concentrate on how to build the right model for our customer," said Gottesdiener. "The challenge now is in adopting the appropriate processes around using the UML."

In many ways, 1998 has become the year of UML. Organizations have been gearing up for UML implementation, numerous books on the subject can be found in bookstores and on the Web site, software tools providers have been incorporating UML support into their products, and UML-based repositories are working toward

A real issue with tools support, according to Cris Kobryn, chief scientist at MCI Systemhouse, Atlanta, and chairman of the UML Revision Task Force (RTF), is how much of the notation and related semantics are supported for each of UML's nine core diagrams. "Not everyone supports all of UML right now," he said, adding that tools providers are likely to update their products incrementally to support the full UML.

While certification could help to clear up the issue of UML compliancy within tools, Richard Soley, OMG's chairman and CEO, confirmed that there are no plans for such a process on the books. "We do have certification processes for other standards, including Corba, but a [certification] process for UML is at least a couple of years away," he noted.