Visual Studio software factories to emerge from Microsoft deep freeze

Last night at the Microsoft Mix party in Las Vegas I happened across Michael Lehman, a senior architect, who told me he had been working for the last six years on a Visual Studio add-on called Feature Builder. This turns out to be the evolution of the very same project which Microsoft’s Jack Greenfield told me about back in March 2007, at an architecture conference in the UK, though back then it had a more exalted status (in Greenfield’s eyes at least) – he described it as a platform rather than merely an add-on. Now Feature Builder is to appear as an extension in the Visual Studio 2010 Gallery, only discoverable by those who seek it out. If enough developers find it and like it, it may end up as part of a future Visual Studio release.

It’s all part of Microsoft’s desperately confused architecture and modelling story. Note that Greenfield in 2007 denigrated the UML:

The UML is a collection of useful abstractions. Unfortunately it’s been peddled as a universal modelling language, but the U never stood for Universal. We subscribe to Michael Jackson, author of Problem Frames, who says that there is no such thing as a universal solution. It’s a childish approach. This is where the Universal Modelling Language marketing pitch fails. UML was never properly extensible. It also has the problem that it was designed by a committee.

So what do we have actually shipping with Visual Studio 2010? Standard UML modelling, the best Microsoft has yet come up with.

Reading between the lines, this likely means that the UML faction within Microsoft outvoted the non-UML faction. However, each release of Visual Studio seems to have its own unique approach to modelling and architecture tools, so it would be no great surprise if Visual Studio 2012, say, replaced them with something different.

As for Feature Builder, it does sound interesting – read the Greenfield interview referenced above for why it has potential. Lehman says it is a simpler approach than previous software factory tools from Microsoft, and named Feature Builder to avoid association with past efforts.

Update: Lehman has blogged about the project here, and you can download the preview here.