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My $100 Spending Spree with Windows Workflow

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The WF discussion that Brian Noyes kicked off continues with excellent points from Jon Flanders and Thomas Restrepo. The following posts are full of information from smart people who know WF very well:

You have to understand a technology to use it effectively…
Workflow Complexity
Workflow Complexity Part 2

Tech evangelist Matt Winkle then asked how to improve WF. In other words - quit bitching and offer us constructive ideas.

If I had a $100 budget to improve WF, I'd divide the money as follows:

$30 on designer improvements. The designer has a number of minor irritations, but one stands out at this very moment. Building declarative rules requires me to navigate a number of modal dialogs, and those dialogs prevent me from getting anywhere else in Visual Studio. When I double-click a .rules file, or ask for a new rule in the properties windows, I want a spiffy designer to appear in the editor. Each time a modal dialog appears in Visual Studio, another star falls from the heavens.

$30 on guidance. Simon Ince threw out the idea of a workflow factory / guidance toolkit. I'd also like to see more content covering common workflow patterns and best practices for hosting, versioning, and scaling.

$30 on "activity packs". Incrementally augment the base activity library with "activity packs". Microsoft could make activity packs available for download as they are developed and in-between major releases of WF. Each activity pack could cover a specific technology domain. Examples: a database activity pack, a WCF activity pack, a file system activity pack, and an XML activity pack. We could download just the activity packs we need.

$10 on an open source base activity library.WF will really shine in scenarios where domain specific activities are available (look at casey's article with a Speech Server workflow to see the flexibility and power of WF). First, however, a team has to build good looking and well-behaved domain specific activities. As Thomas says in his post - "Creating new activities is easy. Creating good activities can be pretty hard." The WF site already includes a number of custom activities, but activities are the lifeblood of WF, and we can always use more.

Earlier this year, the ASP.NET team released source code for all the built-in ASP.NET 2.0 providers, so this idea isn't unthinkable. Providing source and documentation for the BAL would be a tremendous boon for custom activity development.