Automating development: Software factories for Visual Studio

The Register has my piece on software factories, based on an interview with Jack Greenfield, a Microsoft software architect. Greenfield talks about a 40% – 80% productivity gain.

If you’re not familiar with this stuff, a bit of orientation may help. When Greenfield talks about software factories, he means both factory instances, which automate the building and customization of specific types of application, and also factory-making tools, which let you create or adapt factories to suit your specific needs. And when Greenfield talks about the factory “runtime”, he means the infrastructure in Visual Studio and its SDK that lets you put your factory to work.

You can actually play with this stuff now. The runtime is called the Guidance Automation Extensions and the authoring tool is the Guidance Automation Toolkit; perhaps one should add the Domain-Specific Language tools. All can be downloaded. You can also download the first four software factory instances. If anyone has tried these and has comments, I’d love to hear from you.

I was intrigued by the internal debates Greenfield mentions. He says it was a mistake to ship the “White Horse” modeling tools in Visual Studio 2005 (Design for Deployment) as a fixed set which are used only occasionally. He is now focused on shipping tools to make and customize tools, a strategy which he believes has more future.

We will always need tools; improvements are welcome. That said, I am also reflecting on the lesson from Qcon: the human factor counts most.