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Blogger Monday, 14 July 2008

Code Generation 2008 Conference

I attended the Code Generation 2008 conference this year to see what the state of the art was and to find out the status of Executable UML within the code generation community.

However, the focus of the conference was very much on Domain-Specific Languages (DSL). Before going to the conference I wouldn't have guessed that there would be so much interest in non-tool vendors creating their own programming languages to define their domain-specific configuration data. Various tool vendors demonstrated and talked about their DSL creation tools. Steven Kelly from MetaCase demonstrated their MetaEdit+® product. Steve Cook from Microsoft gave the keynote presentation on the final day. Their product is Microsoft DSL Tools for Microsoft Visual Studio 2005. Although it doesn't seem to be a mainstream product on their website, just some free components for an old version of their development tool. There were numerous talks on DSL plugins for the open source Eclipse tool including Eclipse Modelling Framework (EMF) and openArchitectureWare's Xtext. I was impressed with Xtext and its ability to define grammars and static semantics, allowing automatic code completion and constraint checking in a generic editor. I will have to evaluate whether any of its features should be incorporated into the Pattern Language used in OOA10.

Code generation from analysis models was really only discussed in Kennedy Carter's presentations and in several of the panel discussions. Chris Raistrick gave a tutorial on Executable UML. However, his talk was almost identical to the Shlaer-Mellor talks he gave more than 10 years ago at the Shlaer-Mellor User Group conferences that Kennedy Carter used to organise. I still enjoyed his talk since he's a great presenter. In fact, it was Chris who taught me Shlaer-Mellor OOA/RD in three 1 week courses over 15 years ago. The potential of the method has stayed with me since then. The only technology that I have come across with the same potential since then has been Java which I have also fully embraced. Allan Kennedy also gave a talk which was billed as an experience report but was actually an attempt to convince people of the merits of translation rather than elaboration. Unfortunately, an experience report would have more useful for the audience present.

What was sad after listening to Kennedy Carter's talks and speaking to them personally was the lack of vision they now have. They have embraced UML by promoting their version of Shlaer-Mellor OOA/RD as an Executable UML profile [xUML04]. This has allowed their company to do well in a UML dominated industry. Their technology works and I'm sure their customers are happy with the delivered systems. However, they have abandoned the vision they themselves promoted of an open marketplace for reusable service domains and software architectures. Reuse is what makes code generation from analysis models practical and affordable. Not reuse of assets within your own organisation. That benefit may come later. It is the immediate reuse of off-the-self assets that can make this approach viable for most companies. XMI does not allow Executable UML models to be interchanged between tools. I asked Chris whether Kennedy Carter would be prepared to make their tool interchange format publicly available and his answer was a definite no. They have made their action language [ASL03] openly available but this is not enough.

The most interesting panel discussion involving Executable UML was Goldfish Bowl: Modelling Standards: what exists, what's missing and what failed? This session was recorded and will hopefully be available on the code generation website in the future. Most of the discussion involved OMG standards, e.g. UML and XMI. Bran Selic who chaired the team responsible for the UML 2.0 standard, made it very clear that MDA is not a standard even through many people think it is. There was a consensus within the goldfish bowl that UML 2.0 is inconsistent and incomplete. Bran reinforced this conclusion by mentioned that an unnamed company recently spent 1 million dollars trying to build a compliance suite for UML. The effort was apparently a complete failure due to problems with the standard. The point was also made that these issues probably couldn't be fixed because there are too many vested interests and too much user momentum behind the current standard. The failure of XMI as a UML interchange format was also discussed. Bran suggested that customers haven't made this a priority with tool vendors and until they did interoperability probably wouldn't improve. Bran also indicated that UML should evolve into an executable UML. However, he seemed to disown the current Executable UML offerings from Kennedy Carter and Mentor Graphics. He even suggested that Executable UML was a failure during questions in the final keynote presentation by Steve Cook.

This year's conference was interesting and well worth attending. My thanks to Mark Dalgarno and his team for organising it. I would also like to thank all the speakers for their contributions. Barring any scheduling conflicts I will try to attend next year.

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