Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

Blog archive

Microsoft's New Tools: Harmony or Cacophony?

In this blog and in my column, I've written a lot lately about new technologies from Microsoft that seek to make software development easier. Technologies like ASP.NET Web Pages, Razor and WebMatrix, Access Web Databases and Visual Studio LightSwitch. Each of these technologies, I believe, is bringing much needed accessibility to programming on the Microsoft platform.

I've also written about Windows Phone 7 which, despite extreme skepticism in the press and analyst communities, has the potential to be an excellent SmartPhone platform. And I've explored rather deeply HTML5, a technology that I believe poses an existential threat to Windows and to Microsoft itself, if Redmond's inertia of the last several years persists.

As I consider all of these technologies, something emerges that, with hindsight, is frightfully obvious: they need to coalesce, unify and harmonize. LightSwitch, which produces Silverlight forms-over-data applications, needs to target Windows Phone 7. Access Web Databases, which deploy as forms-over-data SharePoint applications, should perhaps have some conformity with LightSwitch, and vice-versa.

LightSwitch targets SQL Server Express by default. WebMatrix targets SQL Server Compact. Access Web databases target SharePoint lists and SQL Server Reporting Services. In other words, each of these exciting new tools targets SQL Server in some way (SharePoint lists are stored in SQL Server tables), but none of them targets the same edition of the product. I guess that's OK for the first versions of each of these tools, but I hope these anomalies are addressed in v2 releases. Microsoft likes to talk about impedance mismatches in data access technologies, and I think they've created a massive one of their own.

What about HTML5? Its threat could be blunted if Microsoft confronted it head-on. The version of Internet Explorer on Windows Phone 7 should be HTML5-compatible. LightSwitch v2 should target HTML5 as an alternate rendering target, which would enable LightSwitch apps to run on devices other than those running Microsoft operating systems, or the Mac OS (on Intel-based Macs). I wouldn't mind seeing SharePoint get more HTML5 savvy itself. It would enhance SharePoint's richness, in every single browser, including those that run on mobile devices.

To me, the biggest downside of HTML5 is the relative dearth of good developer tools for it, and the JavaScript heaviness it can bring about. But I would think that the HTML helpers in Razor and ASP.NET Server Pages could be a huge help there. Is Microsoft working on HTML5 Razor helpers now? If not, why not? And WebMatrix aside, it should add good IDE tooling for HTML5 in the full Visual Studio product.

Microsoft's got a lot of good answers to a great number of important software development questions. Now it just needs to make those answers coordinated and consistent. If it can really integrate these tools, then it should. Divided, some or all of these tools will fall. United, they might stand. They could even soar.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 08/13/2010

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