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Workflow Today and Tomorrow

In my last column "Direct from PDC05" (, I covered some of the announcements Microsoft made at the Professional Developers Conference 2005 (PDC05). Since then I've spent some time at the Microsoft 2005 MVP Global Summit. Between the two events let me assure you there are some amazing products coming out of Redmond in the next 2 years. However, all those amazing products can result in some confusion. For example, how does Windows Forms integrate with Windows Presentation Foundation (formerly code named Avalon), and how does Windows Workflow Foundation integrate with Microsoft BizTalk Server 2006? The fact is you have to sit down and really pull all the pieces together to understand whether you're following the correct path for the future. While I'm going to save the discussion of Windows Presentation Foundation for a future column, I'd like to talk about the relationship between Windows Workflow Foundation and BizTalk Server 2006. Microsoft is releasing BizTalk 2006 in November, alongside Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005.

This joint product launch is going to consist of a series of events. In addition to the primary launch on November 7 in San Francisco, Microsoft is hosting several other smaller launches in 50 countries around the globe. You can find more information about these free events at The events are free (in case you missed that) and will operate similar to the model used for Microsoft's Developer Days. So mark your calendar and register before they fill up.

Microsoft didn't stop at the November 7 launch events. It's also working with hundreds (if not thousands) of local user groups to support the launch of these products at the user group level.

For those of you who aren't familiar with BizTalk Server, the joint product launch will actually be promoting BizTalk Server's third release. (For background information about BizTalk Server, go to BizTalk Server 2006 introduces several new features, including better integration with XML Web Services, an implementation of the Web Service Extensions (WSE) 2.0 security standards, integration with Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server, and integration with email services, as noted on BizTalk Server 2006's beta Web page at The fact is that BizTalk Server 2006 is a major release and it's one of the first products to leverage Windows .NET Framework 2.0.

Since its first release, BizTalk Server has included an orchestration engine, which you can loosely consider a workflow engine. This brings us to the question of how Windows Workflow Foundation impacts BizTalk Server. The first item to note is that the development teams that worked on BizTalk 2006's orchestration engine are working on many of the features in Windows Workflow Foundation. Windows Workflow Foundation can, in fact, be seen as an extension of the existing BizTalk model and represents the next step in extending BizTalk Server's reach.

When BizTalk Server was first launched, it was considered one of the more expensive server products from Microsoft. Given that its goal is handling the plumbing of interfacing businesses, BizTalk Server's target market has always been the enterprise. As such, the BizTalk orchestration engine isn't something an individual will leverage, nor has it played much of a role in the development of applications for the end user. This is where the Windows Workflow Foundation comes in. Windows Workflow Foundation is targeting the individual's desktop. With the recent growth of workflow systems such K2, Microsoft recognized that BizTalk Server's existing target (i.e., the enterprise) was leaving the company out of an important market: the desktop. To reach that market, Microsoft is introducing Windows Workflow Foundation. Windows Workflow Foundation will let developers set up a framework of steps that a given set of data elements must pass through, then let developers build their applications around that data flow.

Windows Workflow Foundation is part of the WinFX suite of technologies, which will ship next year. These technologies include the Windows Communication Framework (formerly code named Indigo), which will enable a common distributed communications model. At this point, most of the information about Windows Workflow Foundation is available from the Windows Vista Development Center at

Microsoft plans to release Windows Workflow Foundation as part of next year's Microsoft Office 12 and Windows Vista push. Note, however, that while Microsoft is releasing Windows Workflow Foundation next year, it's not releasing a new suite of tools to leverage the Windows Workflow Foundation technologies. Although BizTalk Server 2006 won't be aware of Windows Workflow Foundation technologies, don't expect that to remain the case for the next release of BizTalk Server. At that time, I expect that BizTalk Server's plumbing will be able to fully leverage those technologies.

The key is that Microsoft is rolling out products on a predictable cycle (release order, not scheduled date). These cycles allow for a product to be brought up to the current level of technology and for other products to then leverage or expand on that technology. Thus, after the release of Windows Workflow Foundation, the BizTalk Server 2006 team will look at integrating this technology with the next version of their tool suite. The bottom line is that if BizTalk Server 2006 fits your integration model, use it in confidence; rest assured that over time BizTalk Server will continue to be integrated with other technologies released from Microsoft.

Finally, just a side note, you might have noticed I didn't associate Windows Workflow Foundation with the "WWF" acronym. It's not because of the fact that this designator is well known in the United States for wrestling but because that combination of letters is copyrighted by the World Wildlife Fund.

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