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Microsoft takes on enterprise - again

Norfolk and Banks watch from the safety of London

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The other finished product launched, Visual Studio 2005, is attacking the enterprise market too, as with its Visual Studio 2005 Team System tools it has now more-or-less caught up with the sort of lifecycle development support tools other vendors (such as Borland, IBM/Rational or Telelogic, to mention just three) have had for years. Microsoft, of course, claims to have been using its new tools internally for a long time, and to have just "productised" them for sale with Visual Studio.

Once again, at the launch the customers weren't completely representative: although representing big companies, they mostly came from small developer teams and weren't that interested in the Team System parts of Visual Studio targeted at large, distributed teams.

Again, enterprise users will probably want to wait for this development environment to mature a little before considering it seriously and may be concerned about the lack of full UML 2 support. After all, UML 2 is a mature vendor-independent OMG standard and, while smaller players may appreciate "domain specific languages" and simplified UML, enterprise developers can probably cope with, and perhaps need, UML 2.

The proof of the Team System environment will probably come with third party support and this is looking good - for example, the Conchango consultancy has its SCRUM project management methodology plug-in for Team System in beta; Borland is delivering an "analyst role" for Team System, based on its CaliberRM requirements management tool (requirements management isn't supported much by Microsoft); and a less well-known vendor called Tangible Architect is even working on implementing what seems to be a version of MDA, the OMG's Model Driven Architecture, for .NET, which uses Team System where appropriate. If enterprise developers need UML 2 but otherwise want Team System, someone will supply them with UML 2.

Even so, enterprise developers are usually fairly conservative because they realise that change can hinder business as well as facilitate it - there is always a risk associated with change, as well as a risk associated with staying put. Which means that we'll have to wait and see how popular Team System proves to be in competition with the emerging Eclipse-based lifecycle development environments.

Borland, for example, has its Together tools for Eclipse and, according to Anthony Kesterton, IBM Rational Technical Consultant, IBM is using its RUP expertise to help Eclipse go up a level and become less code-centric, initially in the Eclipse Process Framework project.

The most interesting part of this Microsoft launch event was the "chalk and talk" session, where Microsoft put up its real technicians. Some of these had comparatively recent experience outside of Microsoft and obviously did believe that SQL Server, say, could now go head to head with the big boys (although one of them commented that mainframe DB2 was a much tougher target than Oracle, or MySQL, itself a sign that he knew what he was were talking about). More to the point, they sounded believable when they talked of successfully migrating mainframe database installations to SQL Server, although they couldn't talk about these in detail yet.

Martin Banks, however, has his doubts: "I actually don't see migration as a major or important target for this or any other enterprise tool anymore. It is one of the potential advantages of service orientation that users will be building loosely-coupled, composite applications that integrate legacy databases - or the bits of them that are relevant - rather than being forced into a decision that brings the dangers of database 'rip and replace'.

"Old databases will be around as long as the services they provide are valued more highly than the cost of the licence. But once that balance goes negative, and other cheaper databases can do the work well enough, old databases will be out on their ear. So it'll be migration by osmosis rather than radical surgery".

So, in conclusion, an interesting launch and one that does point towards Microsoft really making it as an Enterprise player at last - at least once Service Pack 1 has arrived. However, we'll have to wait to talk to, say, Oracle customers who are actually migrating to SQL Server, or adopting it for new business services, before we can see how realistic Microsoft's Enterprise aspirations really are. ®

David Norfolk is the author of IT Governance, published by Thorogood. More details here.

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