Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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LightSwitch Extensibility: It Ain't Just Hype

This past Wednesday, Beta 1 of Visual Studio LightSwitch (VSLS) was be made available to MSDN Subscribers. On Monday, it will be made available to the general public, at Even in advance of Monday, that site is already making useful content available. Specifically, a Channel 9 video called "Visual Studio LightSwitch - Beyond The Basics" is well worth the viewing time. In it, Beth Massi (Program Manager on the Visual Studio Community Team) interviews Joe Binder (a Program Manager on the LightSwitch team) and the conversation is a revealing one.

The two start off with what is emerging as the standard demo of VSLS: creation of a simple SQL Server database, with hierarchical relationships between tables, and some attractive screens with which to view, enter and maintain the data. VSLS is a new product, and Massi and Binder have to start with this demo.

But they then go past that simple scenario and bear out, in a practical demo, what Redmond folks like Dave Mendlen and Jason Zander have been saying for the last three weeks: enterprise developers can extend the standard functionality delivered by VSLS. As it turns out, Mendlen and Zander haven't just been nursing their talking points... if anything, they've been understating VSLS' virtues.

Joe Binder showed how VSLS extensibility works. He did so in a matter of fact way: he simply built a Silverlight control, and then used it in his LightSwitch app. He then built a RIA Service, plugged it into the VSLS project, and almost instantly built a screen on top of it. The Silverlight control was built in a standard Silverlight project, and the RIA service was built in its own standard project type as well. The only "twist' was that the Silverlight code could reference objects in the VSLS project and bind to one of its collections automatically.

What we learn from this video is that (1) LightSwitch projects can be extended in a serious way; (2) instead of building a bunch of new interfaces and special objects, VSLS extensibility is done with standard .NET technologies; and (3) that synergy between a new framework and standard, existing technologies is additively augmented with (and not replaced by) VSLS APIs. VSLS pros can do what they do while teaming with .NET enterprise devs doing what they do. That's low on disruption and high on added value. And beyond that, each one can learn a bit more about the other's discipline and make the result richer still.

I think this is how software should work. I think developers should be productive quickly and then have the opportunity to learn more and do even better. In other words, the skill levels should be Good and Better, rather than Bad and Good. LightSwitch makes that possible. Which means, despite fears out there which are utterly to the contrary, LightSwitch helps .NET, and it helps .NET developers.

The team behind LightSwitch derives from the teams that built many of the Visual Studio data tools and data binding technologies, as well as from Visual Basic itself. They're wonderfully pragmatic, if you ask me, and they fought hard to get this product out there. Lots of people, including folks at Microsoft itself, were skeptical of this product, and these guys got it done.

Version 1 won't be perfect. Version 1 is never perfect. If things go well, Version 1 proves a point, and does it well enough for people to make a switch (as it were) and use the product in their work. I hope things go well. LightSwitch needs to succeed and so do the people who need it.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 08/23/2010 at 1:15 PM

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