The movie Kill Bill: 2 by Quentin Tarentino pays homage to the legacy of all the Hong Kong kung fu movies and their sometimes threadbare plots but almost balletic staging. Jackie Chan has brought a strong whiff of the genre to North American audiences with his Drunken Master and other movies. The plot lines in many of these movies revolves around the Master and Pupil relationship and often turns on the disillusioned pupil. So now lets take a look at BizTalk 2004 and InfoPath 2003.
BizTalk is a business process management tool that unites user defined stages of processing outlined in graphical steps using the Visio based Orchestration Designer. The developer then incrementally refines these process steps with a Business Policy/Rules Composer that is able to tie together “facts” from many different database tables into conditional rules for action for every process step. This is basic EAI-Enterprise Application Integration done through a BPM-Business Process Modeling framework. The difference is that the BizTalk Orchestration or BPM model can be fleshed out in great detail within the new BizTalk extensions in Visual Studio.
The Orchestration Designer can be called from Visual Studio as well as the BizTalk Mapper that considerably simplifies mapping between XML message data sources and destinations including Office 2003 files saved in XML format and all InfoPath 2003 forms. In addition there is a robust VS BizTalk editor which is able to read, write and help generate the BPEL execution files and XSD XML schema files (Microsoft has moved from proprietary XDR to W3C standard XSD)used by BizTalk Mapper and other tools. BizTalk Server 2004 uses a superset of BPEL4WS-Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (but has promised to reconcile with the final BPEL4WS standard). The Orchestration Designer also allows for admin management and debugging – so users can follow the flow of a process through the diagram and break at key steps and then view critical messages and database values. BizTalk 2004 is the third version, and as many reviewers have remarked it shows great promise in a field just starting to percolate with activity. And the power of Biztalk Accelerators and Adaptors have not been mentioned at all yet.
InfoPath 2003 as noted above is an XML based forms designer and filler application of no small virtue. InfoPath is a a drag and drop forms designer which adds a number of components beyond the usual HTML forms – rich text box, date picker, bulleted list, table, ink picture(for stylus handwriting into a form field), optional sections, repeating sections, repeating table. The latter three components are of particular interest. Optional sections are dynamically added to a form depending on a user supplied response, repeating sections automatically add another section to a form(say for another job history set of fields) and the repeating table responds to the same type of key press or event signals to add another blank row for entering data values into a table.
InfoPath is decidedly W3C XML based – using Xpath+XQuery to maintain all of its own XML data tables, XSLT to transform between those Infopath XML tables and external destination tables. Those external destination tables can be XML, XML with XSD schema description, ADO.NET database tables or XML SOAP Web Service data. InfoPath considerably simplifies making all of those connections. InfoPath has one flaw – it has its own InfoPath form type not compatible either with WinForms or WebForms. But then InfoPath filler is programmable with VBA. It is scriptable with JScript or C#/VB.NET. Like BizTalk 2004 , once you get the hang of the flow, InfoPath is ridiculously easy to use.
Bottom line – BizTalk 2004 and InfoPath 2003 are two of the most promising products I have reviewed in the application development over the past two years. These are both contenders for being Killer Applications except for one thing. The Master calls and the CSA decrees that these tools must run best in Windows.
So BizTalk 2004 only runs in Windows 200x servers, Win XP and Win 2000 clients, only IE 6.0 browser with SP1, only directly integrates with SQL Server database, does have adaptors for easily connecting to IBM MQSeries and SAP, but everything else must be done through Web Services regardless of the efficiency or reliability/security of the connection. So not BEA, Oracle, DB2, Sybase, JBoss, Peoplesoft, Lawson, not any CORBA processes, no other messaging services, no portal servers nor any J2EE application server – the only way these can be accessed is through Web Services. Advanced Business Activity Services only runs in Windows SharePoint Services and only with InfoPath 2003.
In the case of InfoPath 2003 it only runs in Windows XP and Windows 2003, it requires IE 6.0 SP1 for browser functions, its ADO.NET connections only support SQL Server 2000 and Access 2003 and Business Activity Services requires Windows SharePoint Services.
Now maybe I am wrong, others may find Q-Link BPM or BEA WebLogic Workshop 8.1 just as or more innovative than BizTalk Server 2004. And maybe the rich media and cross platform capabilities of Adobes new Designer 6 or Macromedias Central and Flex tools give them an edge on Infopath. But these would-be Killer Applications are diminished greatly due to their slavish need to Run-Best-in-Windows. Because of their lack of interoperability and/or cross platform support – both programs become mere shadows of what they could be – they are reduced to Brando-ish “I coulda bin a contendah” status. So I suspect if the BizTalk team or the InfoPath team find themselves at a movie theater, well they might see Kill Bill Too in a different light.