MS readies software reuse tools

After several years of development, Microsoft shows off a design preview of a repository for storing software components and specifications.

Mike Ricciuti Staff writer, CNET News
Mike Ricciuti joined CNET in 1996. He is now CNET News' Boston-based executive editor and east coast bureau chief, serving as department editor for business technology and software covered by CNET News, Reviews, and Download.com. E-mail Mike.
Mike Ricciuti
3 min read
As part of a long-standing campaign to cut application development time by reusing more software components, Microsoft (MSFT) will today provide a design preview of a long-awaited development repository that it hopes will set an industry standard.

A repository is a database, but is used for storing software components or pre-built chunks of code that perform specific functions. Developers can reduce development time by using and reusing software components because everything doesn't have to be built from scratch each time. Although lots of developers have turned to components through the increased popularity of object-oriented programming languages, many end up creating the same ones over and over because they have no way of storing and documenting them.

Microsoft's repository stores components, documentation on how applications are built, and Web-related documentation, so that teams of developers have access to the same information through a variety of development, modeling, management, and Web tools, said Keith Short, director of advanced technology at Texas Instruments, who is Microsoft's partner in the endeavor. The idea is that developers will not only be able to reduce development time on individual projects but bank every new innovation for future projects, thus accelerating development speed incrementally over time.

The repository will consist of a published interface and a repository engine that is built atop the company's SQL Server database server. Repository information will be mapped to SQL Server automatically and displayed in database tables.

The repository has already been several years in development with Texas Instruments. Microsoft will finally preview the design of the repository and will distribute beta copies of the software to representatives from more than 50 independent software makers at a briefing Friday on the company's campus in Redmond, Washington, said Jon Roskill, director of marketing for Microsoft's Visual Basic development tool.

Also today, Microsoft, TI, Select Software, and Rational Software plan to preview a model for component definition.

Unsurprisingly, the first commercial implementation of the repository will come in Microsoft's own tools, specifically, the Enterprise and Professional editions of Visual Basic 5.0, which will include the repository when they ship in the first quarter of next year, Roskill said.

But Microsoft also hopes to license the repository to competing tool makers, including Borland International and Symantec. The company's overall goal is for the development industry in general to adopt the repository as a standard so that components created by a wide variety of tools can be stored in the Microsoft repository.

There is a fairly big hitch, however, in the company's plan to make its repository an industry standard: It only works with components based on Microsoft's Component Object Model specification, the architecture that underlies OLE and ActiveX. Roskill added that Java components can be created with a COM "wrapper" or a layer of code that lies between the Java applet and tools that control it. But that still leaves out all the tools that create components based on the other major component standard, CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture.)

Microsoft must also battle a negative industry perception of repository initiatives because similar efforts to galvanize the software development tool industry around a single, universal repository have flopped in the past. The most notorious was IBM's ill-fated Repository Manager, which was universally derided as too big, too complicated, and far too expensive when it debuted in the late 1980s.

Short said the Microsoft/TI effort won't suffer the same fate. "IBM's effort was too big in scope. We are focusing on smaller parts of the problem--like definition of a component and component models. This is very focused, so we can move forward in an incremental fashion."

At the meeting today, Microsoft will present proposals for defining components and storing them into the repository. The company also will attempt to hammer out a specification with independent software vendors. Microsoft has not yet addressed any licensing fee questions or other pricing details, Roskill said.

Information on the component model specification and repository will be posted Monday to Microsoft's Web site.