Visual Studio LightSwitch Is Live; Should You Care?

LightSwitch offers a good way to quickly create business apps that are easy to maintain and upgrade--and that's good for both end users and developers

Last year, I wrote about a beta product that Microsoft announced called LightSwitch (see "Visual Studio LightSwitch: Mort Lives!"). In a nutshell, Visual Studio LightSwitch 2011 (as it has been formally named at launch) is an approachable development tool positioned neatly in between Office/ Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) and full-fledged Visual Studio development on the development complexity scale. You can read more about the product and its features at the official Visual Studio LightSwitch website.

The key takeaway that I presented in my previous column is that Mort gets a .NET-friendly way to build line-of-business (LOB) applications quickly and easily, while we hard-core developers don't get ulcers when we inherit these LOBs as they graduate to "officially supported" status in the workplace. After all, unlike Office/VBA LOBs, LightSwitch applications are built around patterns, are scalable, and can be imported directly into Visual Studio.

Aside from this peripheral interest, though, should you care about LightSwitch? After all, we're not in the business of quick-n-dirty CRUD, are we? I disagree. I think that LightSwitch can be extremely useful, even to full-fledged software developers. Here are a few reasons.

One of the first things that popped into my head when I saw LightSwitch was how useful it could be for the creation of back-office applications to support customer-facing applications and websites. As a funny (or not so funny) anecdote, I led a team of developers several years ago that created a commerce website for a major television shopping channel. The project was done under extreme schedule duress, so as a result, we launched with virtually no back-office support. Here we were doing over one million dollars a day in sales, with the website content editors using SQL Server Enterprise Manager to enter product information. It would have been a godsend to have a tool like LightSwitch to help us bang out some back-office tools until we caught our breath. And the best part is that (as previously mentioned) we wouldn't have lost any of our work if we scaled up to a more complex solution.

Another huge benefit of LightSwitch is that since it is built on the Silverlight platform and can easily be re-targeted as a windows desktop or web application, you instantly get support for the Apple Macintosh platform. In years past, this wouldn't have been such a big deal, but with the surge of Mac usage in corporate America (and beyond), it is increasingly more important to keep multi-platform in mind.

Microsoft (as well as I in my previous column) espouses the value of the hand-off of code from Mort to software developer via LightSwitch; but what about the other way around? Think about it this way. Have you ever built a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint presentation, or Word document for a user who was not overly technically adept and then showed them how to adapt it for their needs? LightSwitch offers the same possibility for LOB applications.

Some Morts may not quite be proficient enough to wrap their arms around LightSwitch and start from scratch. However, if a seasoned developer got them started in a quick and easy way and gave Mort a head start toward solving their problem, both parties benefit. The time-consuming business rules customization could be performed by Mort by following a simple template, while the software developer can feel good about the code that he or she will inherit when the torch is eventually passed back to them (as we all know it will).

At the end of the day, LightSwitch isn't the kind of flashy new technology that gets us hard-core developers excited. However, it is the kind of technology that, if encouraged and properly implemented, could save many of us countless hours of aggravation porting poorly written LOBs as well as solve our cross-platform back-office tool needs. LightSwitch is a winner, and that's the message that we need to spread.

Jonathan Goodyear is president of ASPSOFT, an Internet consulting firm in Orlando. He is Microsoft regional director for Florida, an ASP.NET MVP, a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer, and a contributing editor for DevProConnections.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.