Microsoft developers want freedom from third-party tools

LOS ANGELES – An application developer from a Vancouver-based company said quality of software is a key source of aggravation in building applications.

Joe Bains of Squirrel Systems, which develops point-of-sale software for the restaurant industry, said his development team has to continuously re-invent the software using third-party tools that, up until now, are missing from the Microsoft core platform.

“We shouldn’t be having to go out and buy third-party tools such as a reporting services tool or something to transport data,” Bains said at a roundtable discussion Tuesday here at this year’s Professional Developers Conference. “Why isn’t that in the core of Microsoft? Give (developers) the tools that they can use easily, as opposed to having them reinvent the whole wheel.”

Microsoft Corp. is responding by giving its independent software vendor community the next generation of development tools on both Windows XP and Vista platforms that allow them to spend more time developing unique software that differentiates them from their competitors.

Microsoft Windows Presentation Foundation, formerly code-named Avalon, is a unified presentation subsystem for Windows exposed through WinFX — an extension of the .Net framework — that allows developers to create visually rich applications. Applications created in Windows Presentation Foundation are written in Transaction Authority Markup Language (XAML) code, an XML-based model that allows an application to run across multiple platforms including IBM, Oracle and Sun.

This feature allows developers to take advantage of the write once, deploy anywhere model to develop applications for the plethora of devices and platforms from tablet PCs to media centre to PDAs that exist in the market today, according to IDC Canada analyst Dave Senf.

“What that means for the spectrum of consumers to businesses is that they then have the opportunity to have more applications at their disposal that are more integrated into their organization,” said Senf.

Windows Communication Foundation, formerly code-named Indigo, uses a variety of Microsoft technologies such as ASP.Net and transports such as HTTP and TCP to create a single runtime environment for building distributed systems, enabling developers to build Service Oriented Architectures across platforms.

In his keynote address to thousands of attendees at this year’s conference, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates Monday said SOA has to be simple to use so that businesses can easily deploy software and reap the benefits of cross-platform capabilities.

“We have to move to a new level,” said Gates. “We have to understand what people work with. We have to have a workflow level that not only helps people coordinate from software to software but to people to people as well.

“This is where SOA really comes together and where can take customer data and map it back onto the hardware. This is a necessary element of this SOA dream.” 

Armed with these tools, tech support departments at developers like Squirrel Systems can now focus on improving the quality of their product and customer service, said Bains. “Microsoft finally gets it,” he said. “Programmers aren’t their bread and butter, developers are.”

With the high turnover rate in the restaurant industry, these new tools also help Squirrel Systems and other developers provide end users need a simple, graphical user interface that is easy to learn. “We can give these guys a visual representation of tools that’s easy for anybody to get on there and start using,” said Bains.

Likewise, Collin Roth, senior developer at Telvent, which specializes in solutions for several industrial sectors including energy, environment, traffic and transport, said the standards-based format of Windows Communication Foundation is key to intercommunication with his company’s product suite.

“Being able to be interoperate with other systems is very critical to us,” said Roth, who also attended Tuesday’s roundtable. “Indigo gives us the opportunity to move forward with a secure, fast and interoperable capability.”

In other PDC news, Microsoft Wednesday announced a new suite of designer tools that, coupled with Windows Presentation Foundation, will help developers and designers create applications and Web sites easier and more cost-effectively. With that, Microsoft announced Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF), which will be included in upcoming versions of Visual Studio, BizTalk Server and SQL Server that will be launched later this fall. WWF, which Microsoft is also using in Office 12 and SharePoint, allows developers to write applications in different programming languages, including C-Sharp, Visual Basic and .Net.

“The workflow path is key to building applications,” said Dennis Pilarinos, program manager of WWF for Microsoft. “In the past, designers had to write custom workflow infrastructure as part of their applications. WWF completely changes that.”

Microsoft also announced a suite of design products called Microsoft Expression, that includes Acrylic Graphic Designer, Sparkle Interactive Designer, and Quartz Web Designer. Acrylic features dynamic visual effects that allow designers to experiment with new image effects such as blurs, drop shadows and colour correction. Sparkle enables users to combine multiple media elements such as vectors, pixel images and 3-D content for rich user interfaces. Quartz offers standards-based design that allows Web designers to create Web sites that support various standards including HTML, XHTML and CSS. All three programs also support XML, ASP.NET and XHTML to allow for easier integration between design and development teams within a company.

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