Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

Blog archive

Microsoft LightSwitch Defends Productivity

At VSLive today, I had the pleasure of introducing Microsoft Corporate VP Jason Zander. And he had the pleasure of introducing Visual Studio LightSwitch. Pleasure is a theme here, because the product, to me at least, looks great.

LightSwitch is a .NET based environment, hosted in Visual Studio, that allows developers to build business apps. Quickly. It harkens back, with pride, to tools of old, like VB6 and FoxPro, that made data, and data maintenance UIs, first class citizens. These tools also treated line-of-business developers as VIPs, not as the great unwashed.

LightSwitch builds Silverlight applications. They can run locally (in or out of the browser) and they can also run on Windows Azure. They can work with any database, but the development environment makes it very easy to create SQL Server databases, and can then deploy them to SQL Azure. The stock UIs look very Microsoft Office-like, but third parties can build alternative skins/themes that plug right into the environment. Infragistics already has a prototype. Microsoft showed it on stage today. And it did look really nice.

Data validations are built in. Search is built in. Business data types (rather than simple database or .NET data types) are built in. LightSwitch takes away the burden of creating a bunch of plumbing for corporate apps. Plumbing that you either have to write every time, or else use some framework that, by definition, won’t be very standard.

Tools in the 1990s did this too. Then the 2000s came and many of those tools largely went away. Now one has come back, and it targets the modern Microsoft stack, including Silverlight and Azure and the Entity Framework and WCF RIA Services. With considerably less working in the weeds to use these technologies than has been required until now. And, yes, LightSwitch lets you write .NET code when you need to.

I watched the tweets fly by during the keynote. Many expressed curiosity and excitement. Others expressed dismay. Dismay that “lesser” developers will have access to the modern stack. Dismay that they’ll build the apps quickly. And dismay that Microsoft wants to enable them. The dismay was often uttered under the cover of concern for stability, scalability and maintainability.

To the dismayed, I must say: get over it, and stop worrying. \There’s room for productivity developers. There’s room for enterprise developers. They don’t have to be at odds. This is not a zero sum game.

We need productivity programmers to be accommodated on the Microsoft stack. If they are not, they will go to other stacks. In fact, they already have. We have to try and get them back. They create opportunities for enterprise devs, and they create opportunities for their customers. I hope LightSwitch appeals to them. I hope it brings them back to the Microsoft ecosystem. I don’t know if it will, but even if it doesn’t, that doesn’t make it a bad idea. Celebrating difficulty and demonizing productive ease? To me, that’s the bad idea.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 08/03/2010 at 1:15 PM


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Reader Comments:

Sun, Aug 7, 2011

I started programming with dbase and vfp and have been an avid user of visual FoxPro for many many years. I have also undergone the transition to .net and can say from experience that when it comes to data centric line of business application suites, development productivity is lost in small shops due to the complexity and changing landscapes of technology. In the time it takes to produce a large scale commercial data lob solution technology changes, developers change tune with infrastructures and frameworks and unless one has a team of developers focused on the backend plumbing, is often difficult to focus on developing the actual business processes of an application. Lightswitch is the first tool I have seen from Microsoft that can actually bring productivity back into development and this is exciting. I would rather spend my time focusing on on developing a working prototype with key data and screens then worrying about the communication classes between the client and back and server. These components are important and knowing that they can be extended with .net tools is certainly a plus. Bravo Microsoft... Lightswitch may just win back vfp developers...

Fri, Apr 8, 2011 paul

Lightswitch is pure garbage. It only works with SQL Express and even then is unable to locate it. If this is the replacement for MS Access it has a long long way to go. In true MS fashion, it does not work.

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 Gboluwaga USA

I'm a Database Administrator, and I would not mind having an development tool like LighSwitch. Sometimes, I need a simple front end to my database server. And if LightSwitch can connect to Azure, then, I know I have a solution to the project I have been dreaming to write in a fast way: Cloud Application!

Thu, Aug 5, 2010 Phil

"Then the 2000s came and many of those tools largely went away." They went away because Microsoft killed them so developers would have to switch to .Net. Now we "harken" back to the day. Good grief a person can only drink so much KoolAid before they choke.

Thu, Aug 5, 2010 Clinton Gallagher Milwaukee County, WI

LET US CONSIDER REALITY. Google Android OS apps reach SEVEN SCREENS: desktops, netbooks,notebooks,tablets,mobile phones,digital signage and HDTVs (Fall 2010). Ballmer has apparently back-stabbed Ray Ozzie who could have turned the company around but has clearly been tied up and kept in a closet (I predict Ozzie will resign any day now). Thank you for some good years Microsoft (sincerely) but BALLMER'S FAILED LEADERHSIP HAS TURNED THE "LIGHT SWITCH" TO THE OFF POSITION! Every C# developer I know including myself are learning to use Eclipse with Java and the Android SDK as fast as we can. Google has FINALLY made it possible to "write once run everywhere" a legitimate premise. LONG LIVE OUR JOBS WHICH BALLMER UNDERMINED AND DESTROYED! THE KING IS DEAD! VIVA LA ANDROID! LONG LIVE THE KING!

Thu, Aug 5, 2010 ws

People seem to forget that the goal is to give the user an app that solves a problem. The best solution may be an excel, access, or lightswitch-built app. It may also have to be a much more complex multi-tiered .net / silverlight / wpf / whatever app. Sometimes though, I believe extra complexity is thrown in just because that's what we developers have been preaching all too long. Simple is good, as long as it works. Any complexity has to be justified. Besides lightswitch, anyone with access and sharepoint access services now can publish a database as a web app. MS is releasing several tools / enhancements that enable end users (some skills required) to build solutions that integrate server / office / database technologies. This is just one of them. If people think only a 'seasoned' developer can build good things, they are in trouble.

Thu, Aug 5, 2010 Danny Dallas

Maybe we should all go back to assembler. :-)

Wed, Aug 4, 2010

I just hope that the people who use LightSwitch wouldn't dare call themselves programmers and software developers just because they created an app using LightSwitch, which I am sure is not far from reality.

Wed, Aug 4, 2010 Joe Kunk Okemos, Michigan

I agree with Andrew. LightSwitch is very exciting on many levels. Anything that makes it easier to build useful solutions in the Microsoft space is a very good thing.

Wed, Aug 4, 2010 Gary Varga Eccleshall, England

This harks back to the happy days of the C++/VB split. Allowing different types of developers to be utilised to their full potential - Not all men are created equal - in a non-gender specific way ;-)

Tue, Aug 3, 2010 Mike McIntyre California

Bring it on.

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