Visual Studio 2012 LightSwitch's New HTML5 Features and Beyond

Visual Studio 2012 LightSwitch's New HTML5 Features and Beyond

When I worked on one of Microsoft's product teams in the late 1990s, I worked side-by-side with developers who refused to work in Visual Studio and opted to write code in a tool that they were much more familiar with: Notepad. No lie. I look back at those days smiling and thinking of myself as a junior-league developer showing Visual Studio to some of the most brilliant software engineers in the world. And some developers rebuked me and refused to use Visual Studio. Although it's safe to say that almost every developer at Microsoft now uses Visual Studio, I'm guessing that some of the original Win16 devs are still using Notepad. For more information on Visual Studio 2012, see "My Favorite Visual Studio 2012 Features" and "Visual Studio 2012 – Not Just About Windows 8."

Visual Studio has evolved over the last decade from a simple GUI-based code editor to an enormous suite of tools. LightSwitch is one of the hidden gems in Visual Studio 2012. Although LightSwitch isn't included in any edition of Visual Studio Express 2012, it's available only in Visual Studio 2012 Professional and higher editions.

LightSwitch Brings Devs Productivity Benefits

LightSwitch was publicly announced in July 2011. At that time I would have called LightSwitch a code generation or application generation tool that helps create departmental Silverlight apps. Consequently, some advanced Silverlight developers immediately dismissed LightSwitch as a development tool.

But the LightSwitch product team, which includes some of the most brilliant people in Microsoft's developer division, hasn't been sitting around doing nothing for the past year. LightSwitch is useful for more development projects than for Silverlight app generation alone. I wrote a column back in June that the LightSwitch team was building HTML5 application generation functionality. This week's announcements make good on that promise because Microsoft has released a preview update to LightSwitch that installs right into Visual Studio 2012.

This update introduces several impressive new features. LightSwitch's development experience for HTML5 has vastly improved from top to bottom with better IntelliSense, better JavaScript debugging, and better screen design support. Also, you'll find better theming and control functionalities to help tailor your desired look and feel in the IDE. LightSwitch is now JQuery Mobile–compatible, which means that you can use ThemeRoller to build your CSS in a WYSIWYG GUI and JQuery Mobile controls can be used as-is. LightSwitch promises end-to-end phone support, which makes smartphones a first-class device target. And as you'd expect, there are new controls and APIs included in the update.

Before you scoff and say, "I'm an awesome developer, and I don't need an app generation tool to help me build software," picture this: I saw LightSwitch team member Beth Massi at a user group presentation this week build and deploy an Azure service (and not a trivial one) in about five minutes through LightSwitch. "Why in the world would you go through all the pain of infrastructure, configuration, and deployment if you had a tool like this to do it?" Massi said. She's right. You wouldn't. I believe that some of these LightSwitch features will be used by even the most experienced developers. Massi also demoed the deployment of an HTML5 application that's built in LightSwitch straight to an Azure website with brain-dead simple ease.

LightSwitch Announcements About the Future

The LightSwitch team also made some pretty exciting announcements for SharePoint developers. SharePoint 2013 is a very different platform from SharePoint 2010, and the LightSwitch team is taking advantage of some of its plumbing. SharePoint 2010 runs as a single website where all application code runs alongside SharePoint code. SharePoint 2013 provides application isolation in which all server code is sandboxed. In SharePoint 2013, all applications are web applications that are hosted on web servers, which makes them easier to update and migrate and enables hosting and cloud scenarios.

What does this mean? First, most enterprises use SharePoint as a hub or portal for corporate activity, and LightSwitch applications can be integrated into that experience. SharePoint 2013 can host Silverlight or HTML5 LightSwitch applications. You can even enable existing LightSwitch applications for SharePoint 2013 easily. Second, LightSwitch applications can consume SharePoint data and leverage the SharePoint programming model to enable new integrated application scenarios.

Where to Go Next

Are you ready to start LightSwitch development? You can download the bits and install them into Visual Studio 2012. The LightSwitch team blog and developer center are great resources to get started with LightSwitch. And if you've got a burning question about LightSwitch development, then be sure to check out Microsoft's LightSwitch forums for additional guidance.

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