Microsoft Unveils Vista Workflow Developer

Microsoft Corp. last week unveiled a set of tools that will add workflow features to its upcoming Windows Vista operating system and ultimately boost those capabilities across other products like BizTalk Server and Office.
The workflow capabilities will be added through the new Windows Workflow Foundation, described by Microsoft officials as a workflow engine, programming model and set of tools for rapidly building workflow-enabled applications.

The new offering, unveiled during the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference here last week, is due to ship in late 2006 as the so-called third pillar of Vista's WinFX programming model.

Microsoft officials said that various development groups plan to incorporate the workflow engine in several of the company's products under separate, undisclosed timelines.

Krzysztof Kniaz, director of engineering at Inc. in New York, said adding Workflow Foundation to Vista will let his company expand on the BizTalk Server workflow system it now uses.

Putting workflow capabilities in the operating system will let developers create connections among users and processes at the time an application is built, he said.

John Hidey, a software engineer at ServiceLink LP, a mortgage management company in Aliquippa, Pa., noted that the current BizTalk workflow capabilities are visible and usable only by the BizTalk Server itself. "Now workflow is available to any application I want, and it is at the operating system level," he said.

Workflow Foundation provides out-of-the-box functionality for developing applications for document management, Web page flow and line-of-business applications, according to Microsoft. The tool set can help developers build workflows that coordinate steps in applications, such as checking inventory and alerting users to variances.

Adrian Brown, CIO at Canal Insurance Co. in Greenville, S.C., said he expects that Workflow Foundation will let his developers add workflow capabilities to custom applications. Canal has avoided doing that to date because, he said, "if you coded your workflow, somebody has to understand it later on. You're reading someone else's code."

On the other hand, he added, Workflow Foundation is very graphical, and it appears to be easy to modify.

Skip Kirby, a business applications specialist at East Carolina University, also in Greenville, said he can envision using Workflow Foundation in Vista to build workflow into custom applications for purchase requisitions, student-history forms and employee processing.

Forms with student information are now passed physically from three to five users for updating. "If we can automate processes like that, we could have much improved economies of scale," he said.