Microsoft's LightSwitch Released for Visual Studio

Microsoft announced the release of Visual Studio LightSwitch 2011 on Tuesday -- which is described as a "simplified self-service development tool" that allows for the creation of.NET applications that can be deployed to the desktop, Web or Azure cloud. The streamlined IDE is designed to promote rapid development of line of business apps by power users and developers in a .NET environment with little to no coding required.

The technology is immediately available to MSDN subscribers. General availability (for purchase through the Microsoft store or resellers) is slated for Thursday, according to Microsoft, but starting on Tuesday anyone can download LightSwitch for a free trial for 90 days with registration required after a 30-day period. A Visual Studio LightSwitch 2011 license is US $299.

Jason Zander, corporate vice president for the Visual Studio team at Microsoft, announced the LightSwitch release in his blog on Tuesday and explained the thinking behind the latest edition to the Visual Studio family of products:

[LightSwitch] starts with the premise that most business applications consist of data and the screens that users interact with. LightSwitch simplifies attaching to data with data source wizards or creating data tables with table designers. It also includes screen templates for common tasks so you can create clean interfaces for your applications without being a designer. Basic applications can be written without a line of code. However, you can add custom code that is specific to your business problem without having to worry about setting up classes and methods.

OakLeaf Systems' principal Roger Jennings, who specializes in data development and Windows Azure, is a proponent of LightSwitch. Its use of the Azure cloud for deployment and data on the backend works as advertised, he said in an email interview. "It corresponds to .NET and Visual Studio as Microsoft Access’ RAD capabilities related to Visual Basic 6 and earlier. It’s likely to bring a lot of fledgling developers into the .NET programming fold and the Windows Azure Platform," said Jennings, who noted that, "SQL Azure eliminates the need for developers to have DBA skills."

LightSwitch Beta 2 shipped in March with a Go-Live license for internal production use. The first public beta of the technology was released to developers last August at the Visual Studio Live! conference. Early on LightSwitch received mixed reactions from developers, some of whom bemoaned potential IT and security issues from providing lower barriers to entry to nonprofessional programmers who are essentially creating forms-over-data apps in corporate environments.

The technology offers starter kits for common business applications, pre-configured screen templates, themes and components for building line of business solutions without requiring code for common data query, record-creation and maintenance tasks. LightSwitch data can be exported to Microsoft Office applications such as Excel and consumed from various data sources including SQL Server Express, SQL Server, SQL Azure, SharePoint 2010 Lists, Entity Data Framework and WCF RIA Services.

If custom coding is required, projects can be migrated to Visual Studio 2010 (with Service Pack 1) for further development in C# or VB.NET. The LightSwitch client technology is built on Silverlight 4 and a Model View ViewModel (MVVM) pattern, enabling LightSwitch applications to run in browsers as a plug-in or out of the browser as desktop applications.

Extensible Solutions
Microsoft is heavily promoting the extensibility of LightSwitch solutions in hopes of creating a third-party ecosystem of extensions. At the Beta 2 launch, Andrew Brust, founder and CEO of Blue Badge Insights, told the audience that the ecosystem in his view was "comparable to the opportunity when Visual Basic 1.0 was entering its final beta roughly 20 years ago," according to his Redmond Diary blog.

ComponentOne, DevExpress, First Floor Software, Infragistics and RSSBus are offering extensions for LightSwitch on Tuesday as part of the launch. Infragistics released NetAdvantage for Visual Studio LightSwitch, a Silverlight-based toolset of data visualization UI controls, shells and themes specifically geared towards building out dashboards and enhancing line of business applications. A subset of the tooling is free, with the full version available to NetAdvantage Ultimate subscribers or as a standalone product.

Jason Beres, Infragistics' vice president of product management, expects LightSwitch to offer a solution to business users whose requirements fit somewhere in between one and two-tier Microsoft Access applications and scalable solutions in Visual Studio. "LightSwitch is the sweet spot in between, where I don't really want to get into the guts of code but I want something scalable and that can actually stand the test of lots of users and that is built on a modern platform," said Beres. "So if I need to write code I can, but it would be desirable not to write code and our products fit into that."

LightSwitch extensions are available in the Visual Studio Gallery and accessible via the Extension Manager within the IDE, which enables users to select extensions for use in current projects. In Visual Studio LightSwitch 2011, the six extensibility points include business type, control, custom data source, screen templates, shell and theme. Developers can learn more about extensibility from the LightSwitch Extensibility Cookbook, released with LightSwitch Beta 2.

About the Author

Kathleen Richards is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.