Windows Workflow Foundation, Microsoft's framework for managing workflow, is reportedly ahead of schedule and could well be available for Windows Vista next year, rather than not ready until Longhorn Server is released in 2007 as previously believed. WWF will also be made available for Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows Server 2003.
Managing workflow on systems is, of course, a difficult technology to develop and implement. Automatic applications interaction, or system workflow is generally a predictable and somewhat static process. The underlying logic is well defined and consistent. Interaction between the people involved in tasks, or human workflow is far less predictable. People change their minds, generate new ideas, cancel or defer scheduled work, and use less structured information. Software technology which seeks to co-ordinate these two different forms of workflow management is quite complex, of course, and to date has favoured system worflow over human workflow. Windows Workflow Foundation seeks to introduce greater balance to the process, and will form an 'engine' upon which future software applications will be built. Office 12, Version 3.0 of Windows SharePoint Services, the Dynamics ERP, supply-chain and CRM products, and the BizTalk Server "Next" version of the Microsoft integration server will all be built on WWF.
The news that the engine itself could be available for distribution much earlier than expected is welcome indeed. Beta1 was released at the Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles this week.