Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) vs BizTalk Server

Yeah, I know it's been AGES since my last blog post.  I'm not going to even begin making apologies or excuses.  I will say to those who've followed my blog, that I am going to start ramping up the frequency of my blogging, as I have a lot to talk about.  Upon joining Microsoft last January, I've not had much time to do a lot of things I did before I joined the collective.  Needless to say, however, that since joining Microsoft, I've gotten to see (or at least hear) about a number of new initiatives coming out of Redmond that's geared at making developer's lives a lot better.

For those of you who used to follow my blog on DotNetJunkies.com, you'll probably remember I had a series of posts on my design/development process around a custom XML-driven workflow engine I was working on (BTW, I'll be posting an archive of those posts on my new blog here).  Well, had I known then what I know now, I'd have definitely tried to get onboard our TAP (Technology Adoption Program) and gotten my customer involved with exploring Windows Workflow Foundation (formerly known as Windows Workflow Services and Windows Orchestration Engine (WinOE)) as well as pushed Microsoft in trying to support our current platform with a release of WF that'll work with v1.1 of the .NET Framework!

Windows Workflow Foundation, in a nutshell, is our new framework for building workflow-enabled applications.  It consists of a programming model, a full-blown workflow engine, and developer tools for building custom workflow solutions.  WF will sit as another namespace within our WinFX stack (System.Workflow) and will provide the necessary tools for building compelling workflow solutions for the Windows platform. Working here at the Microsoft Technology Center, one of my focuses is around connected systems and business process automation, alongside portals/collaboration of course [:)],and I've engaged with a number of customers who are searching for a solution to address their need for introducing workflow into their applications without having to resort to BizTalk Server or going with third-party workflow solutions.  With WF, we now have technology that we can position as an alternative solution that delivers rich functionality out-of-the-box for introducing workflow within their enterprise applications.

Over the course of my next several posts, I drill into Windows Workflow Foundation and discuss how you can build some value adding solutions with the technology.  As my own personal case study that'll fuel the posts, I'll use the custom engine I wrote a year ago and blogged about during my time on DotNetJunkies and completely rearchitect it to work with WF as well as Windows Communication Foundation (formely known as "Indigo").

But before I go hog wild about WF, let me first set some groundwork around the technology and basically tell you what it is NOT

  • WF is not the next version of BizTalk Server – Customers whom I have engaged with recently and presented this new technology to get confused with where WF and BizTalk fit.  I've often fielded questions of whether WF will simply be a component of BizTalk Server or is it a replacement of the BRE (Business Rules Engine) or whether WF will be the platform of the future and BizTalk will get phased out in favor of building more integration tools/technologies into the operating system.  WF will serve as a common workflow solutions framework that will not only be leveraged by future versions BizTalk Server, but many of the future versions of a number of Microsoft products, including the Office System (Office, SharePoint Products & Technologies, etc), and the Microsoft Dynamics products (formerly known as Microsoft Business Solutions).  WF is geared at complementing BizTalk Server rather than serve as a replacement.  BizTalk will still have it's place in the Microsoft product roadmap as serving as our premier integration and business process management platform.  It is worth noting, however, that BizTalk developers will feel right at home with the development environment of WF and will be able to do things that you currently can't do with BizTalk Server.
  • WF is not BizTalk Human Workflow Services (HWS) – Human Workflow Services (HWS) in BizTalk Server has always left a lot to be desired.  It has been a technology that has had great intentions, but very poor on execution.  In future versions of BizTalk, HWS will be phased out in favor of a more robust and extensible solution that leverages WF.

I've been working with this technology for the past several months now and I have to admit that this is one of the coolest things I've seen.  I strongly recommend that you go and download the whitepapers and the bits and get started in building compelling workflow solutions!

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