Microsoft Ships Go Lives for VSTS, WinFX

It has been a busy 2006 so far for Microsoft developers. Last month, Microsoft shipped go live versions for several key WinFX technologies, including Windows Communications Foundation and Windows Workflow Foundation. Moreover, this week devs can get their hands on the latest go-live version of Visual Studio 2005 Team System and Team Foundation Server, Microsoft execs said at VS Live.

Tags: Devs, WinFX, Microsoft, Developers, ESB, SOA, WCF,

It has been a busy 2006 so far for Microsoft developers. Last month, Microsoft shipped go live versions for several key WinFX technologies, including Windows Communications Foundation and Windows Workflow Foundation. Moreover, this week devs can get their hands on the latest go-live version of Visual Studio 2005 Team System and Team Foundation Server, Microsoft execs said at VS Live.

In late January, Microsoft released the first Go Live versions of Windows Communications Foundation (WCF) and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF), giving enterprise devs the OK to take their SOA plumbing and workflow code out of the cleanroom and into a live enterprise environment.

In the mix, the "Go Live" WinFX release may shake up the battle for enterprise mindshare between Microsoft and a widening range of Java-base ESB vendors.

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"Microsoft hasn't really talked about an ESB offering because we believe WCF and BizTalk provide a significant superset over ESB vendors," Ari Bixhorn, director of Microsoft's Web Services Strategy told IDN. That said, Bixhorn acknowledges that Microsoft's WCF and WF are coming into an SOA infrastructure sector that is increasingly being defined by commercially shipping Java-based ESB products.

"Time and time again when we talk to customers many ask us about what our ESB offering is," he told IDN. "There are certainly elements of ESBs that we think are important for SOA but we also think they need to go further. So, once we describe WCF and BizTalk capabilities, customers see we can provide those [ESB] capabilities, along with some not yet available" in many ESBs, he added. .

So, What Are WinFX Devs Getting, Building, Testing?
Devs have been receiving monthly updates to WinFX code since September 2005, under Microsoft's Community Technology Preview (CTP) program, but last week was the first time Microsoft gave "developers the OK…to test out their apps in a live environment," Bixhorn said.

"Our customers have told us the reason they want to test [WinFX] in a production environment is to understand and even push scalability limits. In back office application where customers may have hundreds - even thousands - of servers, scalability testing is now a priority before the final [WinFX[ release," he added.

The Go Live releases of WCF and WF come 2 years after the original announcement of WinFX (the suite of developer interface technologies to replace Win32 APIs, of which WCF and WF are a part).

So, what exactly are WinFX devs building and testing?

Bixhorn cites an early beta use at Ohio State Medical Center, where Bixhorn said, devs have "re-plumbed their entire infrastructure network across several hospitals." The project: Using WCF, devs are designing a system to send patient information to operating rooms, monitoring centers and even tablet PCs over private, secure and reliable connections. In fact, the design calls for data transfer in almost real-time to assist in assessing patient vital signs during examinations and emergencies, Bixhorn added.

Bixhorn says that while the focus on SOA "will certainly be an important theme in 2006," he also adds that many vendors' emphasis on the infrastructure issues have left application designers and developers out of the SOA conversation.

At the heart of this type of customer app, is Microsoft's 3-tier vision for SOA, and how developers need to be enabled to play a bigger role in apps design and workflows. "Beyond the basic SOA plumbing issues, there are also information and data flow issues that are not getting enough attention. We think about SOA process as a 3-stage process, which will provide a complete set of technologies to let customers integrate a whole set of information assets in an interoperable way, and are also resilient to change over time."

Not surprisingly, Bixhorn's 3-stage vision maps precisely to Microsoft's roadmap for dev server-side and presentation-layer tools:

1. WCF provides devs a server-side API programming layer to simplify the business of working with integration and interop of web services across multiple environments
2. WF provides devs server-side APIs runtime and visual editors to more easily design, build and implement workflows across services to deliver a specific set of business-focused services/applications; and
3. Windows Presentation Foundation(not included in the Go Live release, but the third leg of WinFX) provides devs client-side tools and abstraction layered APIs to build rich-client access and interfaces beyond web browsers.

Bixhorn: WinFX Empowering Devs for SOA Projects and Beyond
The overall goal of the WinFX CTP and Go Live releases for WCF and WF are about helping developers build software on the Microsoft Windows platform moving forward.

"[WinFX] goes beyond SOA," Bixhorn said. [As a superset of the Microsoft .NET Framework, WinFX combines the power of the .NET Framework 2.0 with new technologies for building applications that have visually compelling user experiences, seamless communication across technology boundaries, and the ability to support a wide range of business processes.]

In specific, WCF provides devs with access to a wide range of web services/SOA transaction specs, without requiring them to know how WS-* works under the covers. "The WCF programming model and under the covers we serialize everything in a standardized way," Bixhorn said. WCF supports all currently approved elements of the WS-* stack of web services specs.

On the currently-supported list of WS-* standards are: WS-Security, WS-Trust, WS-SecureConversation, WS-Policy, SecurityPolicy, WS-Addressing, WS-ReliableMessaging, WS-AtomicTransaction, WS-Coordination, WS-MetadataExchange. MTOM is also supported.

WF's Business Rules Designer enables devs to work with abstract constructs that align with business processes and make that as easy as building a Windows Form. Bixhorn describes BRD this way: "Through abstraction we want to allow devs to model basic business decisions using rules design," he said.

Microsoft's BRD integrated with Visual Studio 2005 so devs have controls from the Visual Studio toolbox they can use, and "just as if they are building a Windows Forms [application], developers will now be able to build decision controls or policy controls in Visual Studio and simply drag and drop them into [BRD]."

And WinFX Attention to Interop
And, interop is also getting more attention from Microsoft in WinFX. To move over existing rules into WF, Microsoft supports BPEL 1.1. In fact, Microsoft's BRD will even let devs export their WF rules using BPEL 1.1 into our tools environments. For further interoperability, WF rules can be saved in XAML.

More on WinFX interop features are discussed at the MSDN blogs.

Visual Studio 2005 Team System RC Available
Meanwhile, Microsoft devs have another set of new code to look forward to later this week. The near-final (Release Candidate) versions of Visual Studio 2005 Team System and Team Foundation Server (TFS) are available this week, with the GA versions slated to ship in March.

The release dates were given by Soma Somasegar, VP of Microsoft's developer division, at the VS Live conference last week.

Visual Studio 2005 Team System provides a central environment for allowing Architects Developers and Testers to collaborate on code design, development and deployment. The suite includes a check-in/check-out repository, and a centralized mechanism for finding and fixing bugs, and tracking other issues affecting a project.

TFS RC Code Available
The TFS component dynamically generates and maintains a number of useful reports, including work completed, work left to be done, productivity (such as reporting and repairing bugs), software quality, etc. These reports are automatically generated with SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services.

In his blog, Jeff Beehler, a Microsoft TFS dev, confirmed TFS RC code will be available this week:

"I'm happy to announce that Friday [Feb 4] afternoon, the Team Foundation team signed off on their Release Candidate build. We have put these bits through a full run of our automated tests as well as updated our dogfood [internal use] server with them. We have also conducted what we call "metal up" tests which entails giving a TFS newbie the media, the install instructions and a set of machines to ensure that customers will be able to get a working system up and running in reasonable time. All in all, the system is looking quite good and certainly ready for folks to install and tell us what they think.

The CD images have been handed off to the team that handles the uploads to the MSDN download center and according to current estimates, we should have bits available for download sometime on Tuesday, February 7th.

In an earlier post, Beehler provided devs with a preview of what to expect in his blog last month: "While there will be a few known issues in this release that we still intend to fix…this Release Candidate will be a 'go-live' release,". "By this, we mean that we'll provide the tools you need to upgrade your data from Beta3 Refresh and we'll support migrating your data from the RC to final release of TFS. Please, please, please plan on upgrading to this release. We need your feedback to help us make sure we're ready to release the final bits and your real world, production usage is the best way for us to gauge this readiness."

Click here for a full description of TFS updates