When I moved to Seattle, one of the most enjoyable things I learned how to do was ride a motorcycle.  I really enjoyed the open air, speed and thrill of riding.

Both of the bikes that I’ve owned – a Kawasaki Ninja 500 and a Ducati Monster 750 – were very reliable and never caused me any problems; a good thing, since I don’t have any mechanical skills to speak of.

The only thing I had to worry about was learning how to ride.  And even that wasn’t very hard – in Washington State, there is a Motorcycle Safety Foundation class that is jointly sponsored by the state and several of the major motorcycle manufacturers – Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, etc.  The class was just $50 and included 1/2 day of classes and 2 full days of riding. 

Just about everything was provided for us.  A few weeks before the class, everyone that was registered for the class received vouchers in the mail entitling us to 20% off helmets and gloves at most of the local motorcycle dealerships. 

For those who didn’t buy their own gear, there was a reasonable selection of helmets and gloves to use onsite.  We had brand-new, friendly, 250cc motorcycles to learn on as well.  These bikes were provided by the various manufacturers that sponsor the course.  Generally speaking, we had our choice of bikes that represented the major categories of motorcycles – cruisers, standards and dirt-bikes.

The last-half of the course was our endorsement test.  Our instructors became our evaluators and one-by-one we did the test.  My class had 30 or so people and everyone passed.  Many, like myself, had had never ridden any motorized 2–wheelers in their lives before.

After 3 days, the market for motorcycles in Washington State grew by 30

At the time, I took the class a bit for granted.  However, had I wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle in the 1950’s or early 1960’s, things would have been very different.

Honda

‘You meet the nicest people in a Honda’ is a popular ad that Honda ran in the 1960’s to promote their new motorcycle, the ‘Super Cub’.  This ad campaign and the motorcycle represented an important turning point in the motorcycle industry in the United States.

At the time, the perception around motorcycles in the United States wasn’t very positive.  Generally speaking, motorcycle-ists were considered rebels, outlaws and members on the fringe of society.  Also, maybe more importantly, the motorcycles at the time were not very attractive for the mainstream.  Motorcycles of that era were heavy, difficult to ride and unreliable.  You had to have a good understanding of the workings of a motorcycle to perform the near constant maintenance that the bikes of that day required.

Honda’s ‘Super Cub’ changed all of this.  It was small, friendly-looking and easy to ride.  And it’s engine was nearly maintenance free.  The ad campaign that introduced this motorcycle focused on parents, young couples and professionals riding the ‘Super Cub’. 

What Honda did was pretty impressive.  They identified an appealing thing that a small, niche segment of the market was doing, and, more importantly, they identified what was keeping this niche thing from being popular in the mainstream United States.  To name a few examples, motorcycles in the United States at the time:

  • suffered from a negative image
  • required its customers to have indepth mechnical knowledge
  • was thought to have little practical value

To mitigate these issues, Honda did 2 things.  First, they built a great product - a fun, easy to ride, bullet-proof motorcycle that could accomodate 2 people easily; this helped increase the broad appeal of the motorcycle.  Second, Honda built a friendly ad-campaign to start changing the negative perception of motorcycling in general. 

The rest is history, the ‘Super Cub’ sold 200K units in its first year, more than all the other motorcycle manufacturers combined that year and went on to sell 50M units in its lifetime.  The ‘Super Cub’ is largely remembered as being the motorcycle that brought motorcyling into the mainstream US market.

So what does this have to do with software? Or Application Lifecycle Management?  Well, my hypothesis is that there is an opportunity to bring what customers who are very, very early adopters have been doing into the mainstream.

When we launched Visual Studio 2005 last year, we started talking about something called the Application Platform, which was the combination of BizTalk Server (BTS), Visual Studio and SQL Server.

My hypothesis is that the Application Platform represents what a few of our very early adopter customers have been doing for quite some time. 

For example, BTS can do many things, but one of the things it does very well is provide a way to implement complex workflows and flow of data. 

From a software development standpoint, BTS is pretty useful.  There are lots and lots of complex human workflows that take place in software development – code reviews, buddy builds, check-in approvals are just a few examples.  Why not take advantage of a graphical designer to literally orchstrate these instead of relying on word of mouth or documentation?  SQL Server is pretty useful as well – I’ve gotten a lot of interest around building Key Performance Indicators from software development data as well as applying data mining to it.  Whether you are doing either or both, the great thing about having a data warehouse for your software development is that you can use it in so many other places.  Project Server, Business Scorecard Manager and Excel are all clients that can make very sophisticated use of a data warehouse.

If your organization happens to be using BTS and SQL Server for more traditional scenarios, you all of a sudden have a single place for to implement all of your processes – either business-related or software development-related, and you have a common format, a data warehouse, to represent all of your data – either business-related or software development-related.

My hunch is that some customers have been able to do this with BTS 2004, VS 2003 and SQL Server 2000 products, but it hasn’t been easy.  There certainly are a lot of hurdles that prevent this type of solution from being accepted by the mainstream.

With the Application Platform bringing together SQL Server 2005, BTS 2006 and VS 2005, I think we are taking a step towards making a solution like this attractive for the mainstream.

For example, BTS 2006 has a bunch of new adapters, but 2 that are really interesting for software development are the email and sharepoint adapters.  A BTS adapter allows BTS to accept messages from whatever is being ‘adapted’.  With these 2 new adapters, BTS can treat email and sharepoint (SPS and WSS) documents as though they were XML documents and use them in BTS orchestrations.  SOAP is another BTS adapter.

Since Team Foundation Server uses email or SOAP for its notifications and automatically creates a WSS sharepoint site for your projects, there is a natural way to integrate with BTS.  Team Foundation Server doesn’t have a great workflow story right now, but BTS is all about complex workflows and orchestrations.  It’s not hard to imagine a TFS event notification that activates a BTS orchestration which runs its course and reports its results by creating a new document on a Team Project’s portal.  I’m sure there are tons and tons of other possiblities.

Another example in terms of making this solution more mainstream is the integration with the Visual Studio client – now without ever leaving the friendly confines of the Visual Studio shell, you can:

  • write C++ code
  • design a class in C#
  • design a multi-tier SOA application
  • kick off a load test
  • create a KPI to report your results
  • data mine to find interesting associations
  • design your business process

If you know the previous generation tools, then this integration maybe isn’t as important.  But if you’re new to an Application Platform-style solution, then centering everything around the familiar – Visual Studio – can really ease the learning curve.

Anyways, just some thoughts on a Sunday evening.  The more I dig into SQL Server 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006, the more excited I become about how to apply those technologies to software development.  I don’t think we have a ‘Super Cub’ yet, but it’s getting there.

Thanks!

Eric.