Although it has a population of anything up to 35,000 itinerant ‘Microsofties’ and other visitors, it can be a lonely life for an expatriate Kiwi on the Redmond campus. “It’s so rare to come across a New Zealander in the grocery store or on the bus, you inevitably end up standing with them for half an hour and having a chat about when you were last in New Zealand and who was on Shortland Street,” says Paul Andrew, technical product manager for Windows Workflow Foundation.
As a result, he actively seeks out other New Zealanders, he says, and knows as many as 25 around the campus. “There are a lot of Australians, too, and people from other cultures. It’s difficult to find people who are really good in IT just directly in Redmond, because they’re typically all working there already, so they recruit fairly broadly.”
After working for Microsoft New Zealand for five years on the team of Sean McBreen (director of Microsoft New Zealand’s developer and platform strategy group), Andrew moved to Redmond around 18 months ago.
In New Zealand he’d been one of Microsoft’s many ‘developer evangelists’. Anyone with the word ‘evangelist’ in their job title, you’d think, would be treated with extreme caution. What exactly does a developer evangelist do? Talk a lot about code, apparently, getting software developers excited about whatever the new ‘gospel’ is.
If he wasn’t now a senior product manager, he’d no doubt be evangelising the .Net Framework 3.0, the component of Microsoft Windows that provides a large body of precoded programming requirements and which manages the execution of programs written specifically for the framework. The launch of the .Net Framework 3.0 is planned to coincide with that of Windows Vista, and — all things being equal — they’ll ship together.
Since moving to the US, Andrew has maintained his connections with New Zealand and he uses local company Kognition Consulting to develop technical content and training materials. “New Zealanders produce really good work and they’re also cheaper than some of the other vendors we work with,” he says.
What the FX …?
It’s been a particularly busy time for Andrew, thanks to Microsoft’s decision in June to rebrand the .Net Framework (for details see ‘Microsoft rebrands WinFX as .Net Framework 3.0’ on page 20 of the Computerworld Tech Ed supplement). While he supports the logic behind the name change, it resulted in a lot of extra work.
“The renaming, when you think about it, really makes sense. It’s much better to call it .Net Framework 3.0 than WinFX and then also have .Net Framework 2.0.”
But it isn’t always easy to convince developers that there’s an
overriding need for a new product, however you brand it — or to persuade them to use it. “You only really know if you’ve got it right after you’ve talked to quite a number of customers and you see their reaction and what they can actually build with it. Sometimes it works out really well, sometimes it doesn’t and you have a new technology that people don’t find a lot of use for. It’s not so much fun when you haven’t figured that stuff out.”
His main presentation at Tech Ed will drill down into some of the declarative rules that can be used in Windows Workflow Foundation. “I find it takes a bit of explaining to tell developers exactly what the purpose of it is, but it’s very exciting to see the look on people’s faces when they realise what they can use it for and how much time it’s going to save them.”
He describes .Net Framework 3.0, Windows Workflow Foundation, Windows Communication Foundation, Windows Presentation Foundation and Cardspace (formerly InfoCard, a security certi-
fication application reminiscent of Microsoft Passport) as “fairly substantial new pieces of technology” for software developers. Windows Workflow Foundation is the programming model, engine and tools for building workflow-enabled, Windows-based applications. It consists of the Microsoft .Net Framework version 3.0 namespace; an in-process workflow engine and designers for Visual Studio 2005. Windows Workflow Foundation is currently available in beta for both client and server versions of Windows.
Microsoft defines workflow as a set of activities stored as a model describing a real-world process. But although it’s possible to write workflows completely in code, they’re often best viewed graphically. Once a workflow model is compiled it can be executed inside any Windows process, including console and forms-based applications, Windows Services, ASP.Net websites and web services.
Andrew has been the product manager responsible for Windows Workflow Foundation ever since arriving in Redmond and says working towards the launch has been about making sure the technology is genuinely suited to developers and ensuring the right training material is made available. What, then, will make Windows Workflow Foundation so useful to the developer community?
“When you build an application, most of your time is spent on the business logic because when the business wants to make some change to the software it’s typically very hard — software developers have to get involved again and spend a lot of time rebuilding. Workflow should make it a much simpler cycle to update business logic and applications.”
That ease of use is thanks to a different approach to the business logic. Instead of talking to business people, then writing specifications based on their requirements and finally having developers go away and write lots of code, XML is used to graphically represent the business logic in an application as declarative markup. This can be displayed as a flow of activities that developers can then print out and discuss with their business people.
“It brings a new way of communicating between business people and developers,” Andrew explains, “and once you’ve got a declarative model of your business logic you can do a whole lot of other things with it. The workflow runtime that’s the heart of Windows Workflow Foundation executes that business logic for you. As a developer, it gives you visibility and a way of modifying it without necessarily redeploying applications, so you have a lot more flexibility than if you wrote business logic in code.”
Developers will be able to experience some of this new software functionality in action at Tech Ed New Zealand 2006, says Andrew, and another highlight will be the graphical capabilities of Windows Presentation Foundation, which not only gives developers new ways of creating user interfaces but also new ways of using 3D technologies to provide more useful onscreen information.
“We have an application we built using WPF where you have a particular set of data on the screen and, if you need to drill into one area, you can rotate the data so it takes up less space onscreen. That allows you to see more data, naturally, and you can still refer back to what you had before — all with the aim of putting more data at users’ fingertips when they need it.”
Both of Andrew’s keynotes on Windows Workflow Foundation at New Zealand Tech Ed will be aimed squarely at developers and he acknowledges it’s not a technology CEOs and enterprises are going to get excited about. “It’s something that will save developers a lot of time when they’re building applications, but it isn’t something that you would deploy in an enterprise directly.”
Andrew has been holidaying in New Zealand prior to Tech Ed, which will give him an opportunity to catch up on Shortland Street. Judging by recent episodes, he’ll have plenty to tell his fellow Kiwis when he gets back to Redmond. Not that we’ve been watching it.