Wednesday, 6 February 2008

First steps with the Guidance Automation Toolkit (GAT)

Hello,


I recently tried out the Guidance Automation Toolkit and its "run-time" companion Guidance Automation Extensions (GAX/GAT - July 2007 CTP) on VS Rosario November CTP image.




The GAT enables you to extent the Visual Studio 2005/2008 experience. Extensibility comes in different forms and shapes but the GAT is geared helping the developer when creating a VS solution. It gives "guidance" in the form VS project or item templates combined with automation hooks (recipes) that can collect information from the developer (wizards) while the solution structure is being created (un-folded).


GAT find it's origin in the Microsoft Software Factory Initiative. The Software Factories provide you with a set of proven practices for building distributed applications. These practices are exposed through architectural overviews, patterns, how-to topics, reference implementations, automated guidance packages, and application blocks. There are several SW factories you can download today ( Web Service (WSF), Smart Client(SCSF), web client (WCSF))

The idea behind GAT is not completely new. A previuos technology in VS2003, the Enterprise Templates was also an effort for rapidly defining the initial structure of applications and to minimize the need to read through a bunch of of white papers, standards, and policies documents.


In VS2005 we've got the new template mechanism (Visual Studio Templates) . The Export template makes is fairly easy to make shareable templates. Actually GAT uses these exported template. What makes GAT different is the way you can hook automation to these templates.


Wojtek Kozaczynski (http://blogs.msdn.com/wojtek/archive/2005/05/02/414129.aspx) has a nice blog-entry describing the origins of GAT.

Yet another technology, called Domain Specific Languages (DSL), is available to extent VS. The DSL Toolkist (in the SDK) allows you to build visual interaction component that can be used from with in VS just like you would for example use a Winform Form designer. You drag & drop the visual elements on the form and code is generated for you. An example in the SDk is a DSL that enables you to visually build a Wizard-like application. So you get a special toolbar and drag & drop the visual elements on your "canvas" and "model" your wizard application. The model then is used by a code generator to produce executable code.

So GAT and DSL Tools both build on top of existing VS extensibility featueres but with more possibility in guidance experience or modelling experience.

Daniel Cazzulino has some thought about the status of developer guidance in realm of GAT, DSL and Software Factories (http://www.clariusconsulting.net/blogs/kzu/archive/2007/01/08/BuildingSoftwareFactoriesToday.aspx)

So I see certainly advantages


  • Productivity can be increased : It includes automation for Visual Studio: with this automation, de-velopers can easily apply guidance in consistent and repeatable ways.
  • Adaptable : It is open and customizable.development leads can customize the factory to meet specific needs.
  • Accelerated start. It provides an effective way for architects and developers to create a high-quality starting point for their application. This means that projects begin with a greater level of maturity than applications developed from scratch.
  • Enforce standards : to enforce standards independent of the solution domain

But I have also some concerns

  • Support : I don’t think so. Is not an official product of MS. It’s from the Patterens & practices group. It is still CTP ... since July 2005. Forum exists but I haven't seen any MS employee replying to questions...(http://forums.microsoft.com/MSDN/ShowForum.aspx?ForumID=78&SiteID=1)
  • Some (steep) learning curveExamples only on blogs (http://jelle.druyts.net/CategoryView.aspx?category=Blog%7CProgramming%7C.NET%7CGuidanceAutomation) or you have to dissect the WSF/SMSF/SCSF or you have to study the default Guidance package that is produced when you create a new guidance package project.
  • Support for next versions of GAT/GAX once an application has been built with a version of GAT/GAX
  • Mistakes are severely punished :-). You can easily scr*w up your registry (like I did) without a warning. Re-installing GAX/GAT can result in something like this
In that respect Victor Garcia Aprea from Clarius Consulting made a GaxTroubleshooter (http://weblogs.asp.net/vga/archive/2007/12/28/troubleshooting-gax-gat-installation-issues.aspx) but I wasn't able to repair my mistakes with it though. Clarius has also a Software Factory Toolkit (http://www.softwarefactoriestoolkit.net/) but I dare not to re-install it because it is rather invasive . It seems to intervene in the default GAX/GAT installation.

Does someone actualy used al these specific VS features to create a custom Guidance package ? What were your experiences? Like to hear from you.


Best regards,


Alexander

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