Microsoft unveils workflow engine

Microsoft unveils workflow engine

Microsoft unveiled a new worflow engine that will handle business process management and integration across Windows.

Microsoft at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) unveiled a new workflow engine for business process management and integration across a host of its software products, including its Windows operating system (OS) and Office portfolio.

The tool, Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF), gives business users working in the Windows environment better control of how business processes behave across various applications, said Microsoft server and tools senior vice president Eric Rudder, who unveiled WWF during his keynote Wednesday morning at the show in Los Angeles.

The engine addresses not only system workflow but also human workflow, he said, and joins Windows Presentation Server and Windows Communications Foundation as a core developer subsystem underlying Windows Vista.

Vista is the next version of the Windows client OS that is expected to ship by the end of 2006. Windows Presentation Foundation, formerly code-named Avalon, and Windows Communication Foundation, formerly code-named Indigo, are the graphics engine and communications subsystem of Windows, respectively.

A mob of companies currently offer software for business process management and integration. While enterprise customers used to buy the software as a stand-alone product, now they increasingly are purchasing it as part of a suite of Web development infrastructure software that is offered by companies such as IBM, BEA Systems and Oracle.

Taking its usual competitive tack, Microsoft is including WWF across the major applications of its Windows platform, so developers building applications on Windows at some point no longer will need to use third-party software to provide business process integration and management.

Using WWF, developers can visually design business processes that can trigger automated tasks and events that employees perform every day throughout various applications on the Windows platform. The engine also will be a core part of products in the Microsoft Office family, such as SharePoint Portal Server, Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange Server, so business processes in those products can be integrated across the system.

In Wednesday's second morning keynote, Microsoft office senior vice president Steven Sinofsky detailed Microsoft's vision for providing enterprise content management through offerings within the Office family, though the company is not ready to disclose the exact packaging of those applications yet.

In an interview following the keynote, Kirk Koenigsbauer, a general manager in Microsoft's Information Worker group, said that Microsoft's vision for enterprise content management means tracking a document, no matter what its file format, through every aspect of its life cycle in an enterprise. He acknowledged this will be a huge task that Microsoft is still figuring out exactly how to tackle, as the company in the past merely "dipped its toe" into this market.

"For enterprise content management we're looking at the whole life cycle of that document," Koenigsbauer said. "We are building technology to facilitate that entire process -- the entire life cycle of a random piece of content [in an enterprise]."

To enable this kind of comprehensive document tracking, technologies such as WWF and the new user-friendly interface that will be available in the next version of Office, code-named Office 12, are essential, he said. Office 12 is scheduled to ship by the end of the year, and its first beta is expected to be available in the next several weeks.

"One of the reasons why enterprise content management is so hard is it's not integrated with how people work," Koenigsbauer said. "We think we can really create an experience that's rich for the customer in a way that's easy and natural to use."

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