Modeling for .NET
- By Jack Vaughan, Deborah Melewski
Modeling and software design are once again riding a wave of popularity, at
least in some limited circles. The Unified Modeling Language (UML) and,
recently, the Model-Driven Architecture (MDA) have gained notoriety in the
industry, and the idea of better design up front clearly has interest.
But the clamor around modeling does not always seem to encompass the .NET
space. As much as any others, what .NET programmers want most is to just code.
But modeling improvements are proceeding on planet .NET at the same pace as on
Modeling of software apps provides a blueprint that helps to ensure that the
app will meet user needs. Companies investing in software development for .NET
do not want to rewrite an app every couple of years because they failed to do a
proper design and architecture in the first place.
Recent tool innovations such as Borland's Together Control Center and IBM
Rational's Rose XDE Developer have improved the UML story, helping to ensure
that UML models are maintained in synchronization with underlying code
implementation. That has helped people to cross the curve of uptaking UML. For
all these reasons, modeling is steady on.
There are, of course, modeling challenges specific to the complexities of
.NET. For those who are familiar with object-oriented technology, modeling for
.NET has not been too much of a hurdle. Not all developers are familiar with
object technology, however, and not everyone is an expert at designing reusable
In fact, Microsoft itself sees that as a key issue as it looks to create its
own model offerings for upcoming Visual Studio .NET releases. As with so much
the software giant does, the new modeling tools will generate both interest and
What drives models?
For now, some object assembly may be
required. When Microsoft introduced Visual Basic .NET, for example,
compatibility with older versions of Visual Basic was broken. The new Microsoft
Visual Basic .NET essentially forces developers to start mastering some new
Going back several years, Microsoft offered a basic Rational Rose modeler in
the Visual Studio box, and it has added Visio visualization capabilities to its
tools since purchasing that company several years ago. It has worked at times
with third parties to create a useful developers' repository.
As Microsoft works to roll out its code-named ''Whitehorse'' design tools, it
is mindful of the shortcomings a wide group of developers have when it comes to
object design. The firm appears ready to make its modeling moves without
committing to UML or MDA standards.
Patterns and practices
To help developers visualize OO concepts
and models for .NET and all its complexities, many tool providers, including IBM
Rational, Borland, Telelogic, Interactive Objects Software GmbH, Computer
Associates, Compuware, Embarcadero, Microsoft and others, have either introduced
new modeling tools, or revamped existing tools to work within the Microsoft
Visual Studio .NET dev environment.
Modeling can be driven from any number of different layers, said Brent
Carlson, co-founder and vice president of technology at Pittsburgh-based
LogicLibrary Inc. ''There is business process modeling, which today tends to be a
lot of process workflows in a graphical environment, and they don't necessarily
get translated by any tools means into requirements but have to be translated by
human means into requirements.''
''I expect that will change over time, but it will take some time to get to
that point,'' continued Carlson. ''Often, a lot of work is done up front with
architectural models, and the .NET component framework, and the descriptive
patterns and practices that Microsoft has started rolling out go a long way
toward starting to organize the way .NET developers think about application
For its part, LogicLibrary formed a partnership with Microsoft aimed at
making that knowledge content more consumable. This centers around the patterns
and practices that are being defined for development and deployment
architectures, and much of that is model-driven using UML. LogicLibrary manages
that content and exposes it to Visual Studio .NET users.
Microsoft has also built out various reference applications that use not only
the .NET framework but application blocks, which are extended capabilities built
on top of the .NET framework that are designed to solve specific problems. These
application blocks are pre-built pieces of code that can be used as is or
extended by the enterprise. These problem solvers have been likened by some to
'best practices in a box.'
LogicLibrary has worked with Microsoft to present those reference
applications in a model-based form. LogicLibrary's Logidex for .NET product
addresses what Carlson terms ''the glut of information issue,'' and helps
enterprises to better organize what they have, put it alongside what Microsoft
delivers to them and then make sense of it.
''Right now, there's a lot of information out there and it's hard to know
where to begin,'' said Carlson. ''If a developer who is going build a .NET app
comes into Visual Studio and sees this reference app that describes how to do
data access, or describes how to do exception handling, or describes how to do
caching in their business layer to improve performance, that's really good stuff
and it gives them a jumpstart toward building out their application more
IBM goes .NET
Now part of IBM, Rational Software Corp. was one
of the original developers of the OMG's UML standard modeling language. With the
Rational acquisition, IBM has added a full development platform to its
portfolio, including support for .NET.
Historically heavily entrenched in Java, rather than .NET, IBM entered the
development tools business with tools for its middleware technologies like
WebSphere Application Server, which were typically complemented by a Java-based
Rational initially partnered with IBM in 1999 to work on IBM's Eclipse
development tools. Rational had also been working closely with Microsoft to
provide visual modeling capabilities for Microsoft .NET. While there was some
question about whether support for Microsoft technologies would continue after
IBM's acquisition of Rational earlier this year, both IBM and Rational went on
to affirm that the relationship would remain unchanged and that Rational would
continue its support of Microsoft technologies.
In fact, IBM Rational provides a wide-ranging integrated life-cycle
development platform for .NET. Because the products are language-agnostic, they
are applicable to Java and other software development activities.
''The business we're in is to enable the success of customers who develop
software,'' said Roger Oberg, IBM Rational's director of market management. ''It's
very clear that customers are, in many cases, heterogeneous in their selection
of component technologies. They'll have multiple projects and some projects will
use .NET, some will use Java and others may use embedded technologies, depending
on the nature of the company.''
Oberg notes that, at some point, a few of those Visual Basic developers may
look to move to Java as a language. ''Learning UML and abstracting yourself from
the underlying component technology can be a very effective strategy for an
organization, so they can develop people who can work on a .NET project today,
but work on a Java project tomorrow,'' he explained. ''Our tooling applies to both
component technologies, so you can learn what you learn about how to model, and
then the UML itself is applicable to both Java and .NET technologies.''
IBM Rational's Rose XDE Developer includes the Eclipse IDE and can run inside
Microsoft Visual Studio .NET or IBM WebSphere Studio. ''The assets that you get
along with them might be applicable to one environment or another; clearly, we
don't abstract you so much from the underlying component technologies that you
can be completely unaware of them,'' explained Oberg.
White board, Whitehorse
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
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 explained. He said
Whitehorse will ship with Microsoft's Whidbey, the next version of Visual Studio
.NET, scheduled for release at the end of 2004.
ADT asked Sridharan about UML modeling support in Whitehorse. He said it was
not intrinsic to the offering, but that UML modeling could be supported via
''There are a lot of different modeling environments. UML is one of them. In
Whitehorse, our approach is a little different. We're trying to build a platform
for modeling.'' That, he 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 OO space,'' he said,
noting that Visio also could support traditional OO 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 said.
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.
The .NET environment introduces its own specific
technologies to help people build Web-based and traditional thick-client-type
apps. In particular, there are ADO.NET technologies and Web services through
ADO.NET. In IBM Rational's Rose XDE Developer, the modeling tool inside the .NET
shell provides a profile to help model and manage ADO.NET and Web services
''The biggest problem that occurs is that people, without knowing it, tend to
change the definition of their Web services and they end up breaking the clients
using the Web services, whether internal or external,'' said Kevin Murphey,
development manager at IBM Rational. ''Modeling is crucial to help you manage the
definition of your Web services and Web-based apps, where you can model the GUI
along with the code behind. We let you model and visualize those through
.NET has also introduced into all of its programming languages some new key
primitives, things like delegates, events, properties or indexers, low-level
programming constructs that are new to the software industry or at least have
never been incorporated directly into the programming language.
Through assisted modeling technology, IBM Rational Rose XDE Developer allows
developers who are not familiar with these constructs to visualize them. For
developers who are familiar with and understand these programming constructs,
visual modeling without having to master the intricacies of the UML is
Of note recently is the proposed Reusability Assets Specification, currently
under review by the OMG. It provides the ability to create assets with a
standard way of describing them. For example, the asset could be the code, code
plus information about that code, what the code's purpose was or its
requirements, what the test results were, version history or, basically, any
variety of meta information associated with this code that facilitates reusable
According to IBM Rational's Oberg, this is a potentially huge benefit to
software developers because the whole notion of component reuse has been around
for a while; but because there has not been a standard way of describing a
component, it never really got off the ground. IBM Rational has added into XDE
the capability to search for and retrieve components that use this description
While modeling and development for the .NET
environment is boosted by a variety of tools providers and standards, there is
still the issue of .NET vs. Java. Microsoft is more than ready to convert Java
to .NET, and for many teams, Java is the first stop. When asked where IBM
Rational's leanings are truly rooted today, the firm's Oberg had to side with
''Java is frankly delivering a lot of value to customers, which is why it's
both popular today and still increasing in popularity,'' said Oberg. ''Our
customers have demonstrated that they're successfully building very complex,
very large-scale applications in Java. It's scalable, robust and it's an open
development environment not owned by any one proprietary organization.
''To be clear, if a customer is wondering whether to go with .NET or Java,
IBM's recommendation will be to go with Java because we believe it delivers the
highest value proposition to customers,'' he continued. ''However, if a customer
for their own purposes has selected .NET, we're going to help them build great
apps in .NET.''
Flexibility has proven to be a key factor in these modeling tools and
standards. UML supports many platforms, languages and development environments.
MDA essentially allows you to have models that are in sync with the code. It
also extends UML into code generation and other areas of the application life
cycle; with its platform-independence, it also supports porting to different
LogicLibrary's Carlson said that his team could readily architect their
application and successfully move it from a J2EE implementation to .NET. ''We
were able to preserve a largely single-source code base for both products
because Microsoft has strong support for J# and can consume Java code in J#
form,'' he said.
''In many cases, with a large percentage of our source code we've been able to
just recompile our Java code as J# and deploy it on the .NET framework. This is
a compliment to both my team and to Microsoft for having a seamless environment
for traditional Java developers,'' noted Carlson.
All points between
Modeling should continue to gain attention at
Microsoft, as it seeks to maintain mind share vs. the Java tools
providers. While the Java camp fashions easier-to-use IDEs, a la Visual Studio,
it seems to have a lead in modeling. This means Microsoft is playing catch-up,
and that modeling, of all places, will be a field where the platform wars may
''The Java community has embraced the concept of modeling a lot more quickly.
Tools have been a lot more prevalent,'' said Embarcadero's Keller. ''What you are
left with is Microsoft holding the bag, offering tools -- with all due respect
to Visual Studio -- without great visual clarity.
''Compuware, for example, and others are doing what they can to steal the VB
developers and bring them over to the light of Java,'' Keller continued.
''Microsoft is trying to maintain the VB folks and [the Java camp] is trying to
Keller noted that a lot of this recent modeling attention focuses on app
development, sometimes to the apparent exclusion of data modeling.
''Much of this is about making the app development approaches easier. But it
doesn't stop at the app. It does not quite stop in the middleware either,'' he
said. ''The question is: How do you make it easier from class to database
component, and all points in between?''
Visual Basic .NET application developers may also
want to target a set of mobile devices, said Bob Holt, product manager at
Atlanta-based AppForge Inc. ''For example, if you wanted to write apps for a Palm
OS handheld, Pocket PC or Symbian, or some of the smart phones coming out of
Europe, you can use your Visual Basic training in the Visual Basic Studio .NET
environment to create and test the apps. After you're comfortable with that, the
AppForge MobileVB.NET software development platform will compile the code
written in the project into a form that's suitable for that handheld
MobileVB.NET uses an add-in module for Visual Studio. An additional menu
inside Visual Studio provides access to AppForge operations. A set of forms is
used to create a set of apps in the same way that they would be used for desktop
According to Holt, modeling aspects are generally handled well by UML-based
add-ins to the Visual Studio .NET environment. It is after a design is in place
that Mobile VB.NET begins to work.
A typical mobile application in the enterprise environment may be inventory
with combined bar-code entry, dial-up-based signature capture and database logic
so that people working remotely with a wireless device can do things like
inventory analysis to a central database.
In general, AppForge spans the spectrum of vertical markets, including
airlines, transportation, hotels, medical and financials. Coca-Cola uses the
AppForge product with handheld devices and custom serial cable and connections
to gather data about what has and has not been sold from Coke