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The Wonderful World of UML

  • June 19, 2001
  • By Kieron Murphy
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I visited UML World in New York City last week. It's one of the big gatherings for those interested in the Unified Modeling Language, the set of consensus concepts among the elite programmers of the world for developing software-intensive systems. Think of a convention of rocket scientists, and you wouldn't be far off.

You might not need UML to build a simple software app; but if you want to build an air-traffic control system, you better be down with UML.

In the '90s, UML grew out of three overlapping methodologies for creating highly scaleable object-oriented programming systems: the Booch Method, the Object Modeling Technique (or OMT), and Object-Oriented Software Engineering (or OOSE), from a trio of gentlemen (dubbed The Three Amigos), Grady Booch, James Rumbaugh, and Ivar Jacobson.

"The UML world is very focused right now," said Popkin, "You can clearly see here at the show that people are dealing with some of the advanced things in UML and with how far they can go with it, pushing it forward."

Version 1.0 of UML debuted in 1997 and was quickly adopted by the Object Management Group (OMG) that year as a "a language for specifying, visualizing, constructing, and documenting the artifacts of software systems, as well as for business modeling and other non-software systems." The methods involved in UML represent "a collection of best engineering practices that have proven successful in the modeling of large and complex systems," according to the OMG. The group is currently sponsoring UML as an international standard.

This year's confab comes as UML celebrates its fourth birthday with a pending upgrade, Version 1.4, due out shortly, and a major revision, 2.0, under construction.

So what's new in the world of UML at UML World?

Jacobson spoke on "Four Macro Trends in Software Development." He sees UML and its tools laying the groundwork for: 1) a reusable-component industry, at last, 2) greater development verification activities, 3) more-intelligent systems run by more-creative developers, and 4) the replacement of traditional programming languages with more-formal ones.

Other big-ticket items at the show included a couple of usual subjects and a surprising new factor. Design patterns and use-case methodology were on full display, with experts such as Mark Grand and Doug Rosenberg helming sessions and panels. But the prominent addition of eXtreme Programming into the mix was seen as something of a breakthrough for the newer programming philosophy. The show boasted a presentation by Kent Beck (one of the godfathers of XP, who are known as The Three Extremos) and a panel on use cases and XP with Martin Fowler, Robert Martin, and Scott Ambler. (For a quick heads-up on XP see my colleague Brad Jones' piece on it.)

To gain some perspective on the whole scene, I sat down with Jan Popkin, one of the made men of UML. Popkin runs a company named for, well, himself, which sells one of the tools Jacobson alluded to, the aptly named System Architect. The company calls System Architect a "comprehensive modeling tool set designed to address the wide spectrum of modeling needs within an organization" and has geared it up to support UML 1.4.

What did Popkin think of what was happening in the world of UML?

"The UML world is very focused right now," said Popkin, "You can clearly see here at the show that people are dealing with some of the advanced things in UML and with how far they can go with it, pushing it forward."

He cited XP as the best example of how the show was reflecting changes in the interests of its attendees. "eXtreme Programming is going to have to live on its own merits. But seeing that this show is a forum for discussing it is a good thing." He disagreed with my analogy of UML and XP being gravitationally attracted from different origins. "I think you have to look at systems integration, or modeling, as a science, itself, for how you want to build systems, and then whether it starts from eXtreme Programming or starts from UML, I think you have to give yourself a little latitude. So I wouldn't push them that close." He did, however, agree that the two met in the larger field of "best practices."

"People are looking to build systems efficiently and in a time-conscious manner. The challenge is that we are building so many varieties of systems. From [Popkin Software's] point of view, we are dealing with enterprise solutions, and on the other side you're dealing with a Java applet for a banner ad. They have very different mechanisms and very different techniques."

Popkin said the company would "pay close attention" to the progress of XP. "We listen to what our users tell us they want in our products." He added that's why he enjoys coming to shows like UML World, to listen to those doing the actual work.

In this regard, he may be the prototypical UML professional.

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About the Author

Kieron Murphy is the editorial manager of EarthWeb.






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