Microsoft Volta: magic, but is it useful magic?

Microsoft has released an experimental preview of Volta, a new development product with some unusual characteristics:

1. You write your application for a single machine, then split it into multiple tiers with a few declarations:

Volta automatically creates communication, serialization, and remoting code. Developers simply write custom attributes on classes or methods to tell Volta the tier on which to run them.

2. Volta seamlessly translates .NET byte code (MSIL) to Javascript, on an as-needed basis, to achieve cross-platform capability:

When no version of the CLR is available on the client, Volta may translate MSIL into semantically-equivalent Javascript code that can be executed in the browser. In effect, Volta offers a best-effort experience in the browser without any changes to the application.

The reasoning behind this is that single-machine applications are easier to write. Therefore, if the compiler can handle the tough job of distributing an application over multiple tiers, it makes the developer’s job easier. Further, if you can move processing between tiers with just a few declarations, then you can easily explore different scenarios.

Since the input to Volta is MSIL, you can work in Visual Studio using any .NET language.

Visionary breakthrough, or madness? Personally I’m sceptical, though I have had a head start, since this sounds very like what I discussed with Eric Meijer earlier this year, when it was called LINQ 2.0:

Meijer’s idea is programmers should be able to code for the easiest case, which is an application running directly on the client, and be able to transmute it into a cross-platform, multi-tier application with very little change to the code.

What are my reservations? It seems hit-and-miss, not knowing whether your app will be executed by the CLR or as Javascript; while leaving it to a compiler to decide how to make an application multi-tier, bearing in mind issues like state management and optimising data flow, sounds like a recipe for inefficiency and strange bugs.

It seems Microsoft is not sure about it either:

Volta is an experiment that enables Microsoft to explore new ways of developing distributed applications and to continue to innovate in this new generation of software+services. It is not currently a goal to fit Volta into a larger product roadmap. Instead, we want feedback from the community of partners and customers to influence other Live Labs technologies and concepts.

2 thoughts on “Microsoft Volta: magic, but is it useful magic?”

Comments are closed.