Chasing Silver Bullets Slightly more serious post about WF

Lots of properties required to get this upI’ve been looking at Windows Workflow Foundation (WF, not WWF for the usual World Wildlife Fund / World Wrestling Federation reasons) these past few days. In particular, I’ve been interested in collaborative workflows hosted online in ASP.NET applications. That sounds really dull (and that’s partly because it is ;) ), but it’s also the way forward (this week). The main reason I’ve been looking at it is for the state machine management combined with persistence for workflows which are waiting on user input.

I think the (possibly temporary!) conclusion I’m coming to is that WF is massive overkill for nearly any application. I’m currently looking at the WF Labs Expense Reporting example, and we’re looking at six (count ‘em!) co-operating assemblies, a lot of instance data on your workflow, co-operating applications to get data in or out, a slew of new terminology and a drag-and-drop coding environment that reminds me very much of some Amiga game I can’t remember the name of from around 1993 (which had a hacking sub-game with while/if/else implemented in a drag-and-drop style).

When it takes around five drag and drop operations and a dozen property settings to implement a simple if/else construct in your workflow, you can’t help wondering if any of this is a step forward from a simple method call. Ok, it’s not helped by the quality of the examples, which concentrate far too much on the how and not enough on the why. Even so, you quickly get the feeling there’s little here that could be described as exactly agile.

Of course, the architecture astronauts are never ones to pass up an opportunity to use a dozen new metaphors where three old ones would have done. This probably explains why BizTalk “architects” are commanding such insane salaries for what is essentially a grandiose plumbing job with little or no coding required. And when things go wrong, you’re left twiddling properties instead of sat inside a decent debugger with a decent worldview.

Tune in tomorrow when the penny drops, I get less grumpy about the learning curve, and I retract all this and replace the post with a thorough evangelisation :D

FOOTNOTE TO MS: If you could make your recorded webcasts freely available as straight video without having to jump through registration hoops and requiring the use of IE, that would also help my grumpiness a great deal. Thanks.

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