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Microsoft WWF Flows Into Dev Apps

LOS ANGELES -- Microsoft announced a set of tools and a programming model to let developers include workflow management controls in their applications.

Windows Workflow Foundation, announced on Wednesday at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference, incorporates both software and user activities.

"It will actually integrate both system workflow and human workflow," Eric Rudder, senior vice president of Microsoft's server and tools business, told the PDC audience.

The workflow functionality will be part of WinFX, the new programming model for Windows Vista, which is the next version of Windows that's in beta release.

Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF) will bridge Visual Studio design tools with the upcoming Office 12 and Windows Server System, especially the SharePoint collaboration system. The beta 1 version is available for download now.

Developers also can use design tools in the new Expressions suite, announced on Wednesday, to incorporate workflows into Web sites and corporate applications.

The workflows can be visualized as flow charts, and new activities can be created then dragged and dropped into place. Developers can modify the underlying code, as well, if they choose.

"In the past, you had to write a custom workflow infrastructure as part of the application," said Dennis Pilarinos, program manager for the Windows Workflow Foundation, during a demonstration. "WWF completely changes that. It's just another .NET namespace and you can write to it in C# or Visual Basic.NET."

The toolset includes methods of testing and debugging the workflow from within the authoring application.

"You can extend WWF by creating custom activities that fit your scenario. The tight integration between WWF and Visual Studio allows you to become immediately effective in building workflow-enabled solutions," Pilarinos said.

At the other end, Office 12 will provide out-of-the-box support for workflow activities, including document creation and management, retention policies and Web content management. Microsoft said Office 12's document management capabilities will be better than those available through Microsoft Content Management Server 2002.

The next version of BizTalk Server, planned to coincide with the release of Longhorn Server, will use WWF, as well, allowing companies to manage business processes via the server or via integration with Microsoft Dynamics applications, formerly known as Microsoft Business Solutions.

"Microsoft Office System allows a new level of extensibility," Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president for Office, told the crowd of approximately 7,000. "It's built on many elements of Windows Server System and a series of new technologies in Office 12."

The core element is SharePoint Services. Sinofsky said. "The idea is to get Office documents onto a server and use services to enhance information work."