Visual Studio LightSwitch: A Silverlight Application Generator

Microsoft recently announced the first beta of Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch. Code-named KittyHawk and kept secret seemingly for years, I’ve been awaiting this announcement for a long time. I’ve watched as app generating tools on other platforms have been released with bold promise and a lot of press while those of us in “the know” on KittyHawk had to remain quiet. I’ve served on the KittyHawk advisory board. With the KittyHawk team’s guidance, we built Microsoft a “killer” LightSwitch demo application that’s making it rounds to the highest levels of Microsoft with a ton of fanfare. The demo will soon be seen by a wider audience in conferences and the Microsoft field organization. The image in Figure 1 shows this demo receipe WIKI.

The Visual Studio LightSwitch beta will be available August 23. At that time you’ll be able to download it here. LightSwitch won’t ship in production until sometime in 2011. What is Visual Studio LightSwitch? Well, it is a uniquely SKU’d version of Visual Studio that encompasses the tools to quickly build Silverlight applications through a series of wizard choices and configuration settings. It is, in effect, a Silverlight application generator whose code you can modify and extend. For more background, see Jason Zander’s (the General Manager of Visual Studio) blog here.

Should LightSwitch build more than just Silverlight apps? Should it build ASP.NET and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) apps? Windows Phone 7 apps? Well, of course it should. But it doesn’t. At least it doesn’t in its first release and maybe never. So we’ll just have to be happy with what it does do and what it will do—Silverlight.

Not everyone is happy with the LightSwitch announcement. What I find so interesting on LightSwitch is the reaction it continues to get in the technology elite community. No one seems to be “wishy-washy.” It’s been that way since KittyHawk plan was released internally to Microsoft insiders. LightSwitch is either vehemently loved and applauded or violently dissed. I am on the “love” side of the equation because I have been one of the folks whining for application generation tools in Visual Studio for years. To me, it just doesn’t seem like asking too much for the tool that we have come to know, love, and depend on to be able to point at a data source, build the CRUD classes, and allow a developer to choose a look and feel. It’s just code, right? If you want to hack up what the wizard does, fine. If you don’t want to use a wizard, and you’d rather build everything by hand; that’s fine too. I do see the other side of the issue, though. Aside from ivory tower developers and architects who are just plain threatened by “joe business guy” creating departmental CRUD apps, there’s a legitimate point from the developers whose job it is to inherit these homegrown departmental applications built without governance or guidance, and then turn them into “real” applications. I’d want to “green-field” every application too and never inherit code and never have to do maintenance on any code. However, that is just not a realistic view of the world we live in.

So, for you developers out there who have to inherit the code of non-professional developers and absolutely abhor it: Would you rather inherit an Access application, a Visual Basic 6 application, a Fox application, a “fill in the blank” application—or Silverlight code generated by Visual Studio? Because as long as there are technically savvy non-developers, departmental applications that go viral and then have to be turned into production ready apps are going to continue to spawn. Personally, I believe we all would rather inherit Silverlight generated by Visual Studio. And that’s the bold promise of Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch.

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