Windows Vista Goes With the Workflow

On Wednesday, Microsoft introduced Windows Workflow Foundation, a new way for developers to quickly build workflow-enabled applications on Windows Vista. The purpose of the technology is to support business processes and make programs adapt to the day-to-day needs of people who use them.

In an interview with BetaNews, Scott Woodgate, Microsoft's group product manager for the Connected Systems Division, tried to explain the announcement's significance more clearly.

"Workflow has been in every application ever written," Woodgate said. He gave several real world examples of the process, such as a newsroom environment where content is submitted to an editor, changes are made, and the content is then published.

The Windows Workflow Foundation is part of WinFX, the next version of the .NET Framework. It will consist of a group of APIs, the engine to make it run, and Visual Studio tools that enable developers to take advantage of workflow within their applications.

Previously, creating a workflow engine -- like those used by SAP and Siebel in their enterprise applications -- was an expensive and time-consuming undertaking. But without workflow, reworking a myriad of "if" statements can become even more difficult, said Woodgate.

"The goal is to be the singular workflow option for Windows," Woodgate explained. By streamlining all the features that developers may need to create their applications into WinFX, it appears that Microsoft is attempting to provide the full ecosystem of technologies and in turn ensure the best user experience possible.

The announcement came as a surprise to many at PDC 2005, as the project stayed under wraps at Redmond until its unveiling. However, Woodgate said that Microsoft has been working on the Windows Workflow Foundation for three years, and fielded two teams to guide its development.

One team worked from within Microsoft to establish how the foundation could assist in the company's own workflow issues. Another team comprised of 30 organizations involved in the workflow business helped guide development and provided suggestions as to features that would be useful to them.

"Developer response has been pretty cool," Woodgate said, adding that Microsoft is not asking developers to completely rewrite programs, "just their middle tier."

To support development around Windows Workflow Foundation, Microsoft has provided a Web site complete with documentation and case studies as examples of companies incorporating the new Vista foundation.

Microsoft hopes the addition to Windows' core will help smaller software developers compete with larger vendors in producing applications that once took extensive teams to build. To aid in that goal, Office 12, BizTalk Server 2006 and Microsoft's line of "Dynamics" business applications will all be workflow-enabled.

Beta 1 of Windows Workflow Foundation is available now, with Beta 2 coming later this year. A final release of the foundation is scheduled for the first half of 2006.

Nate Mook contributed to this report.

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