Oslo – Microsoft’s Strategy for Composite Applications

Last week, Jean-Jacques Dubray published an article on InfoQ regarding Microsoft’s recent announcement of Oslo, a strategy designed to “…take composite applications to the mainstream.” Rather than revolving around a single product, Oslo sets strategic direction for Visual Studio, BizTalk, the .Net Framework, Microsoft System Center and a new product called BizTalk Services. On a side note: Arnon Rotem-Gal-Oz hopes that this final project’s association with BizTalk is more about branding than actual product similarity, a sentiment I share.

After posting this article, Jean-Jacques sent me an email and asked me to share some of my thoughts on Olso for a follow-up article to be published at InfoQ. I sent my thoughts along on Friday, but thought that I would post them here as well.

When we developed a long-term strategy for Composite Applications at my organization, it was obvious that while Microsoft technologies would have a major role to play in many areas of our future-state architecture, there were several vital pieces missing in the Microsoft stack that we would likely need to find elsewhere. I’ve always felt that we weren’t alone in that sentiment, and the Oslo announcement suggests that Microsoft is also well aware of the gaps in their current offerings. While products like Dynamics CRM and MOSS 2007 offer composition scenarios which I regularly point to as examples of end-user and/ or business analyst composition, Microsoft has long been missing the technologies to unify these experiences under a common framework. Though missing in the products themselves, the Composite Applications vision is one that I have seen preached by Microsoft Architects and blogger’s like Mike Walker and others who seem to have a good grasp on the long-term potential of composite applications. The good news about the Oslo announcement is that those individuals are no  longer in the minority. With Oslo, I believe Microsoft has unveiled merely the beginning of a unification strategy that enables composite applications. I believe that this bodes well for clients and non-clients of Microsoft alike.

That being said, There are two reasons why I’m a bit skeptical about the Oslo announcement: For starters, I believe that Microsoft’s stated vision for Composite Applications is too narrow. While the Software + Services and SOA visions are needed, I believe that the end goal of any Composite Applications strategy should be to gradually enable composition up the stack toward the end-user. This is done first by providing a SOA which enables true service and process composition, then by extending those principles to developers of customer applications, business analysts and, ultimately, end users. Oslo speaks well to the former, but the latter is auspiciously missing. I actually don’t believe that such a goal is absent in the halls of Microsoft, but I do believe that it hasn’t permeated across the organization and thus, isn’t given a place in the conversation yet.

The second reason I am hesitant to praise Microsoft for the Oslo vision is because their announcement is related to technologies which are anywhere from 1 year to 3 years or more away from release. Most of the tool updates are two releases away. Microsoft is correct when they say in their press releases that 21st century business is moving faster than IT can deliver, but that statement is true today. Organizations need solutions today, not announcements of solutions coming tomorrow. My organization, for example, cannot wait for a repository to manage models, metadata and services (one of the gaps we knew about in our strategy) when our ability to manage all three is already beyond our control. I honestly believe that Microsoft’s vision for Oslo is a good one, but they are just now announcing plans to provide functionality that most organizations already know they need, which puts them at a disadvantage with those organizations. I can see a day in my company where many of the pieces in the Oslo stack make their way into our architecture, but today we need to keep moving. Of course, the good news is that when SOA and composite applications are done right, vendor lock-in is reduced and organizations can focus on delivering for the business today instead of waiting for the remaining puzzle pieces to fall in place tomorrow.

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