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Borland Software and Rational Software, a division of IBM, aim to deflect attention away from Microsoft this week when they unveil tools that marry visual modelling with application development.

At its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles last week, Microsoft formally unleashed Project Whitehorse, a component to the next version of Visual Studio, code-named Whidbey, that visually models applications within the .Net IDE.

This week at the BorCon conference in the US, Borland plans to unwrap Enterprise Core Objects (ECO), a model-driven runtime platform for rapid business application development for .Net, company executives said.

Borland will incorporate ECO within new architect editions of Borland Delphi 8 for the Microsoft .Net Framework and Borland C#Builder for the Microsoft .Net Framework, they said.

The vendor also plans to enhance its Enterprise Studio 7 for Java to offer tight integration between the design and development of J2EE applications.

Meanwhile, Rational, Lexington, Mass., this week intends to release new features for its J2EE visual design tool, Rational Rapid Developer, that allow developers to provide visual design for portal apps using IBM WebSphere Portal.

Eric Rudder, Microsoft senior vice president, said the company expected to release the Whidbey version of Visual Studio by mid-to-late 2004. Other company executives said the first beta of Whidbey is due in May, the second in August.

One solution provider, who requested anonymity, questioned that timeline, given Whidbey's tight integration with Yukon, the next version of Microsoft SQL Server. While Whidbey should be ready by its projected release date, Yukon, because of its complexity, may not, he said. If Microsoft decides to release the two products simultaneously, Whidbey's release could be delayed, he said.

What Whitehorse will look like in Whidbey's final version also is unclear. Solution providers told CRN that the modelling tool demonstrated at last week's developers conference, which provides smoother deployment by linking visual application models to software and servers running in the data centre, represents a small part of what Microsoft is trying to achieve.

Microsoft's goal with Whitehorse is to tie modelling so closely to development that the two processes become seamlessly integrated, one partner said. 'You're enabling the developer to do bidirectional modelling, and the code will automatically sync up,' said Andrew Brust, president of Progressive Systems Consulting, a Microsoft custom development firm in New York.

Unified modelling language (UML)-based modelling and design tools currently available, such as Rational Rose, focus on the 'romantic science' of modelling, Brust said. That focus makes using UML tools as complex a process as actually coding the application, he added.

Microsoft intends to make modelling more accessible to developers, Brust said.

Whitehorse will speed Web services delivery by automatically synchronising models with executable code. Still, solution providers cautioned that tools vendors might have trouble convincing business executives, and even developers themselves, that modelling is a worthwhile part of the development process.

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