The Microsoft strategy

Microsoft Corp. has been working to provide tool interoperability through its UML-based Microsoft Repository. The latest version, which allows component information to be shared among team members as well as by multiple tools, is included with the recently shipped Visual Studio 6.0.

More than 70 independent software vendors (ISVs) are building products that will interoperate with the Repository, leveraging the Open Information Model and its UML import/export facility. "We selected the UML because of its wide adoption," said Lloyd Arrow, Microsoft Visual Studio and Repository product manager. "We received industry design input, and we expect that we will see a large number of tools provide interoperability."

Central management is provided by the Visual Studio Component Manager. "If you create an information model based on the UML and any design tool, it can all be exported into the Repository," said Arrow.

While Microsoft Repository is currently available only on Microsoft platforms, Platinum Technology Inc., Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., is working with Microsoft to port the Repository to non-Microsoft platforms, such as MVS, OS/400 and Unix.

Microsoft Visual Studio 6.0 supports UML-based logical application design through Visual Studio Modeler. A low-end version of Rational Rose, the Modeler was jointly developed by Rational Software and Microsoft, and ships with Visual Studio 6.0 to bring an accessible modeling tool to developers.

"A lot of developers did not have access to modeling tools," said Arrow, who also noted that there has been a lot of confusion in people's minds between architecting a system and building a system. "When we went out and asked our customers if they had modeling tools, many said that they were too complicated or too expensive."

Initial UML feedback received by Microsoft indicates that a large majority of programmers have the perception that the language is complicated. "We're simplifying that perception by making the most widely used features visible at the top," said Arrow. "You can pick up the tool and get value from it. If you want to do more sophisticated, complex things, you can get there as well. You simply find the level that's right for you.

"UML is still fairly new to a lot of people," he added. "It is becoming more accessible, so we have been seeing more adoption. We expect to see a more dramatic move with the incorporation of Visual Modeler into the Visual Studio package."