Microsoft Previews Vision of ‘Software Factories’

Aiming to keep all-important software developers eager to work on its platform and to stay ahead of Java-based rivals, Microsoft is laying the foundation for what it sees becoming “software factories” where specific applications can be quickly customized from a base of existing code.

The software giant unveiled some early stage previews of what it acknowledges is a longer-range vision of click-and-drag software development in the .NET environment.

Microsoft released a “Community Technology Preview” version of a new family of modeling tools, once known as Whitehorse, that will be part of the Visual Studio 2005 developer suite.

The tools are aimed at giving developers succinct representations of various Web applications, using detailed graphics that represent software components and helping developers to build better applications by allowing them to see how various programs and codes work together.

Web Apps in Flash

Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research, told developers at the Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages and Applications conference in Vancouver, B.C., that as Microsoft sees it, the way applications are developed will change over time.

“We have to think about programming with large components” instead of individual lines of code, he said.

The tools are meant to make the application development process more easily considered in a visual way that will ensure that application can run successfully on a network without breaking existing apps or crashing entire networks.

In the future view from Redmond, Washington, software developers will use such tools to knit together applications and connect companies via Web services. The Longhorn Windows platform is expected to be built to take full advantage of software built in that environment.

In the past, Microsoft has said it would put its software where its mouth is and use the tools to develop its own products.

Microsoft was able to trot out some high-profile partners for its software factories’ push, with Borland Software saying it would contribute to the domain-specific modeling features in Visual Studio 2005 and Kinzan saying its future rollouts would be designed to work with current and future .NET iterations.

Helping Developers

Microsoft has long gone out of its way to entice developers to work with its platforms, giving them substantially early looks at various software still in development, for instance.

A Microsoft spokesman said the company has a good working relationship with thousands of software developers, who provide feedback on new products and help create tools that build on what Microsoft offers in Windows. The company is eager to show developers that even complex enterprise-level software integrations can be more easily completed with its tools, he added.

The importance of developers is growing, analysts say, as networks and Web-based applications become ever-more complex and are expected to do more and more.

Gartner analyst David Smith said Microsoft early on did not do enough to explain the benefits, both current and future, of .NET, and may have lost some early opportunities to lock in enterprises that need custom applications that will work in a Web services world.

Now, he said, companies are looking to the future, when Web services will be standard procedure and a host of different applications will be expected to work together across the Web.

“Web services enables a simpler connection on the surface, but the complexity of what’s underneath is what’s driving the need to have better development tools,” he said.

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