Survival Guide: Line-of-Business Development
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Line of Business Development
Microsoft's efforts to improve mobile, Web and cloud application development have captured a great deal of mindshare over the past year. Yet even as Microsoft pushes the boundaries of its developer tooling, the company's focus on its core line-of-business (LOB) developer community remains strong. The release of Visual Studio 2010 and the .NET Framework 4 in April significantly advanced Microsoft's .NET tooling for LOB developers. The core development environment added the rich, WPF-based Editor and the Managed Extensibility Framework (MEF) for enabling extensions to the base IDE. The .NET Framework 4 included updated versions of the C# and Visual Basic languages, which added dynamic features, as well as new capabilities in WPF, WCF and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF).
Not far removed from the Visual Studio/.NET update, Microsoft released new versions of Office (2010), SharePoint (2010) and SQL Server (2008 R2). All three releases have a significant impact on developer decision making in the rich client space. For instance, Microsoft moved decisively to bring the SharePoint application development and deployment experience on par with traditional .NET programming. Likewise, the Business Connectivity Services (BCS) incorporated into Office and SharePoint 2010 have enabled rich data connectivity across diverse endpoints, easing a key limitation for building data-heavy productivity applications for these environments.
The most intriguing technology in the rich LOB dev space is undoubtedly Silverlight, which has evolved rapidly into a capable platform for business application development. Silverlight's role as the Microsoft cross-platform runtime for Web application delivery may be changing, but it continues to gain on WPF as the premier target for XAML-based development on the desktop. Silverlight 5, expected to release in beta form in the first half of 2011, will provide improved WCF RIA Services and networking, including the addition of WS-Trust security support. It will also provide improved application performance, greater integration with local system resources both in and out of browser, and additional graphic enhancements such as hardware-based acceleration.
For dev managers, the question of WPF or Silverlight has largely been answered, as Silverlight has climbed the XAML feature stack to address the vast majority of application scenarios previously addressed only by WPF. Support for WCF RIA Services and rich OData integration gives Silverlight a mature and robust mechanism for handling data-heavy business apps. And the ability to share code across Web, Windows Phone 7 mobile and desktop Silverlight projects is very compelling. And, unlike WPF, Silverlight apps can run on Mac OS-based systems.
Microsoft has also moved to support LOB development via Visual Studio LightSwitch, a wizard-driven app building environment intended to enable power users and business analysts to produce manageable .NET code. While LightSwitch will have negligible impact on mainstream .NET coders, the tool provides a ramping point to take one-off or departmental information solutions and graduate them to the enterprise application stack.
Major updates to Visual Studio, .NET Framework, Office and SharePoint in the past year have reshaped LOB app development. But the emergence of Silverlight as a mature conduit for robust XAML code could be a game changer in 2012.
Michael Desmond is an editor and writer for 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.