Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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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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