Microsoft enhances .Net, Windows Server

REST and Dublin app server capabilities are highlighted in updated platform strategy

Microsoft on Wednesday is revealing an updated platform strategy to support composite applications in Windows Server and the .Net Framework programming model.

The company's efforts, focused on SOA and Web 2.0, involve enhancements tailored for the planned 4.0 version of .Net Framework, which is to be featured in Windows Server. Also among the improvements is a set of Windows Server extensions, codenamed Dublin, which complements .Net Framework and boosts the operating system's ability to act as an application server.

With this strategy Microsoft is recognizing that users are starting to use Web services and SOA much more broadly, said Burley Kawasaki, senior director of product management within the Microsoft Connected Systems Division. As composite applications are built on top of Web services, the application server faces new challenges in handling the complexity of these applications, he said.

While Microsoft does not offer a product in the application server category, it offers application server capabilities in Windows Server, such as message-cueing and caching, Kawasaki said.

Key improvements planned for the Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) 4.0, which is Web services technology in .Net Framework, include support for REST Web services, Atom, and POX, or "plain old XML," Kawasaki said.

"WCF is the foundation for building these service-oriented apps," he said. A Starter Kit that previews REST and other new capabilities in WCF 4.0 will be offered in October on Microsoft's CodePlex site for open source projects.

"[REST is] one of the most requested types of services we hear about from our customers in particular around these lightweight composite apps," Kawasaki said. The company has been a strong supporter and developer of the alternative WS-* specifications for Web services.

An official at a Microsoft business partner hailed the REST capabilities and the accompanying Starter Kit.

"The REST capabilities [are on par] with anybody out there and in some cases even better," said Robert Medrano, executive vice president at SOA Software, which intends to use the new Microsoft technologies.

Version 4.0 of .Net Framework also enables WCF 4.0 and WF 4.0 (Windows Workflow Foundation) to work seamlessly together, Kawasaki said. This will be done via a common application model that uses XAML as a declarative model for everything built in an application, including the presentation layer, workflow, and services, Kawasaki said.

"You can build a whole application now declaratively using this common approach," he said.

The runtime in WF also offers improved performance for applications, Kawasaki said. Enhancements in workflow modeling are featured as well, including persistence control, data binding, and scoping.

The Dublin enhancements will be an add-on to Windows Server that is downloadable off the Web. Dublin provides a standard host for applications that use workflow or communications. Featured are message-based correlation and forwarding, content-based message-routing, and support for the planned Oslo modeling platform.

"The important thing [with Dublin] is that we see composite applications as just another kind of app running on Windows," Kawasaki said.

A Community Technology Preview of Dublin and the new versions of WF and WCF are planned for release at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles at the end of October. Products such as its Dynamics AX and CRM applications will be the first products from Microsoft incorporating Dublin and .Net Framework 4.0.

Microsoft has not yet set a ship date for .Net Framework 4.0. Visual Studio serves as the toolset developers use to build WCF and WF applications, a Microsoft representative noted.

Microsoft's platform strategy is dubbed the "next platform wave." The strategy is part of a series of themes pertinent to .Net Framework 4.0 and the upcoming Visual Studio 2010 platform that Microsoft first named on Monday.

Other software vendors intending to leverage .Net Framework 4.0 and Dublin include Amberpoint, Frends Technology, Eclipsys, Red Prairie, and Telerik.

"Dublin is a pragmatic way for Microsoft’s Connected Systems Division to introduce its latest 'foundation' developments to market without having to wait for a new release of Windows Server and BizTalk Server," said analyst John Rymer of Forrester Research.

"For many of our clients, .Net 3.5 is still very new, and so Dublin will be 'too much too soon.' But there’s always the crowd that is hungry for the next set of improvements and new features that will jump on Dublin to start their learning processes," Rymer said.

Dublin constitutes the first deliverable of Microsoft's Oslo vision, Rymer said. "Dublin is the code name for the server, the runtime server that they're building," he said. Positioned as a next-generation platform for building applications linked to models, Oslo now includes plans for a tool, a modeling language and a repository, according to Microsoft.

"Oslo now refers only to the next generation of tools for building application models that Microsoft is working on, not the whole set of development and runtime technologies Connected Systems Division is building," Rymer said. "Net 4.0 seems to be the new name for all of these developments."

This article was updated on Oct. 1, 2008.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.