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What's behind Microsoft's Whitehorse modeler?

After intimations from company head Bill Gates, Microsoft is set to update its modeling arsenal with software now known as ''Whitehorse.'' It is oriented for ''design for operations,'' allowing users to specify logical infrastructure requirements early in the development process, and to verify application settings against logical infrastructure.

''In today's world, there's little communication between infrastructure and architecture teams,'' noted Prashant Sridharan, lead product manager, Microsoft's Developer Division.

As portrayed by Sridharan, a key is that a logical infrastructure designer and a service designer will co-reside in Whitehorse. ''The secret sauce is in how the two designers work together,'' he said. The software will improve back-and-forth between different software camps, he noted. He said Whitehorse will ship with Microsoft's Whidbey, the next version of Visual Studio .NET., scheduled for release at the end of 2004.

When asked about UML modeling support in Whitehorse, Sridharan said it was not intrinsic to the offering, but UML modeling could be supported via add-ons.

''There are a lot of different modeling environments. UML is one of them. In Whitehorse, our approach is a little different. We are trying to build a platform for modeling,'' he explained. That, Sridharan said, includes a modeling engine and a modeling framework. He said the framework would be public [''when it ships''], and that the company was already working with select third parties in this regard.

Sridharan has high hopes for this offering. ''We want to build a renaissance in modeling in general. We believe in model-driven development, although we also believe in traditional development with code.''

Whitehorse, he indicated, will be different from the Rose UML tool with which some Microsoft developers have worked. ''UML addresses an object-oriented space,'' he said, noting that Visio also could support traditional object-oriented modeling. But as service-oriented architectures flourish, and systems become highly distributed, issues like latency and security must be considered. OO approaches may not be the best solutions for such work, Sridharan indicated.

The drift from UML (as supported in Microsoft's earlier Rose add-ins) may trouble some. ''What Microsoft has pulled up the curtain on is decidedly not a standards-based approach,'' said Greg Keller, director, design and modeling solutions at San Francisco-based Embarcadero Technologies Inc. ''They are not interested in UML or MDA. Their tool will be good, it will be effective, but it's not embracing standards other than XML.''

Are partners getting the information on Whitehorse? Mike Devlin, general manager at IBM Rational, says ''yes.'' ''Microsoft does a pretty good job briefing partners. They do have their own vision of where modeling is going. The difference between ours and theirs is ours is not platform-specific.''

The mere fact that Microsoft is promoting modeling is notable, said Grady Booch, IBM fellow, and one of UML's originators. ''The fact that they are entering the modeling market is an exciting thing.'' Microsoft's moves, he indicated, further validate IBM and Rational's efforts since the mid-1990s.

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About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

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