Building the software factory may be a problem

For years software developers have been promised tools to help automate the assembly and re-use of applications. Even Microsoft admits that promise hasn’t been kept.

Now the company is touting features in its upcoming Visual Studio 2005 tool set which it says will enable the creation of so-called

software factories so it will be easy to recycle pieces of software for solution providers who develop applications for their clients or other independant software vendors.

But industry experts doubt the approach will be as revolutionary as it sounds.

“”We want to provide the technology so a system integrator can focus on customizing rather than the plumbing,”” says Lenny Louis, .Net developer tools product manager at Microsoft Canada, based in Mississauga, Ont.

Conquer and achieve

The company has tried to conquer this before, “”but we haven’t achieved what we want, mostly because the form and tools don’t exist,”” he said.

Ideally, a solution provider in, say, the insurance industry, should be able to re-use a standard part of an application created for one customer — such as a standard claims form — and drop it into software built for other insurance companies.

Because it isn’t that easy, developers outsource such “”grunt”” work to offshore companies, he said.

What Microsoft says will enable a software factory will be built into the new release of Visual Studio 2005 and the team edition of the toolset, both coming sometime next year.

Currently, Visual Studio offers Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000 inside the package. This was intended to help solution providers or developers create Web-based applications.

At the time, the upgrade price was just under $600, while the full price as approximately $750 for the package.

Microsoft’s development team also mesh Visual Studio with the new Microsoft Office System.

What Microsoft tried to achieve was a familiar look and feel with the same sort of functionality available in Office products such as Excel and Word.   

Missing impact

Not only will it include tools enabling the use of domain specific language (DSL), it will also outline best practices for creating the reusable sections.

“”This takes into account not just code, but analysis, modeling, working within a team and doing source code management,”” said Louis, in an interview.

Other toolmakers will add their own extensions for industry verticals, Louis predicts.

Bruce Kenny, senior vice-president of Vancouver-based Pivotal Corp., which creates Windows-based customer relationship management software and is a Microsoft partner, has seen early versions of Visual Studio 2005. He said the company is “”looking forward to taking full advantage of it.””

However, he says it won’t have a big impact on the way the company works. “”This is more evolutionary than revolutionary,”” he says.

Greg DeMichillie, senior analyst for developer tools at Directions on Microsoft, a Redmond, Wash., industry analyst firm, also says developers shouldn’t get too excited.

“”It’s another in a long line of attempts to impose some discipline on software development,”” he said.

“”At its core, it’s just another modeling system, another way for developers to build abstract models of what they want their product to be and then have tools to do the grunt work of developing code.””

A Rational view

“”What is new is that Microsoft is getting into modeling tools,”” he says, which companies such as Rational Software have been doing for years. Why is Microsoft doing it now? The reason, he suspects, is that IBM recently bought Rational and feels it has to respond. Jack Greenfield, Microsoft’s software factory evangelist, used to work at Rational, he notes.

“”I imagine this will be a niche success,”” DeMichillie concludes. “”There is no silver bullet. I don’t think software in the foreseeable future will be something you can draw a few lines and click a little button, because no two problems are alike.””

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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