Microsoft's LightSwitch: Building business apps for Web, PCs and cloud

Microsoft's LightSwitch: Building business apps for Web, PCs and cloud

Summary: Microsoft's "KittyHawk" -- a rapid-application-development tool targeted at fledgling coders who are interested in building business applications -- now has an official name: Visual Studio LightSwitch. It also has a public-beta download date: August 23.

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Microsoft's "KittyHawk" -- a rapid-application-development tool targeted at fledgling coders who are interested in building business applications -- now has an official name: Visual Studio LightSwitch. It also has a public-beta download date: August 23.

I blogged about KittyHawk a couple of weeks ago. At that time, I noted that the tool would be designed to bring the Fox/Access style of programming to .Net. Indeed, that's the goal of LightSwitch, which Microsoft is unveiling on August 3, said Dave Mendlen, Microsoft Senior Director of Developer Tools and Platform Marketing.

Microsoft is positioning LightSwitch as a way to build business applications for the desktop, the Web and the cloud. It's a tool that relies on pre-built templates to make building applications easier for non-professional programmers. It's so easy, it's like flipping a switch, quipped Mendlen, in explaining the choice of final name for the product.

(Click on the screen shot at right to see what the LightSwitch interface looks like.)

"LightSwitch users can use as much or as little code as they want," Mendlen said. They can use Visual Basic or C#; they can connect their application to Excel, SharePoint or Azure services, he said. And they can target these apps to run anywhere Silverlight can -- in a variety of browsers (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox), on Windows PCs or on Windows Azure, Mendlen added. (Microsoft is planning to add support for Microsoft Access to LightSwitch soon, possibly by the time Beta 2 rolls around, he said. Support for mobile phones won't be available in version 1 of the product, Mendlen said.)

With LightSwitch, Microsoft is looking to blur the lines between development mode and run mode, Mendlen said.

"This hearkens back to Visual FoxPro," he said, "where you could develop and test at the same time."

When I wrote about KittyHawk, a number of my readers weighed in against the idea of enabling non-professional programmers to run business apps.

Microsoft needs to "(m)ake clear it's not a tool for Enterprise development. An awful high number of companies have Excel/Access atrocities powering real-world business transactions," said reader mnegrini.

Mendlen said Microsoft's idea is that LightSwitch users will be able to "hand offf their apps to professional Visual Studio developers to carry them forward," when and if needed. "Because LightSwitch uses the .Net Framework and Visual Studio core, the hand-off will be relatively simple," Mendlen said.

"We're saying if you are going to go rogue, use LightSwitch," Mendlen said.

Microsoft is expecting to release the final version of LightSwitch in 2011. It will be a standalone dev tool, but also could be part of one of the larger versions of Visual Studio, Mendlen said.

Update: Reader Paul Fallon asked how and if xRM, Microsoft's relationship-management platform -- which also is being used by some to create line-of-business applications -- fits with LightSwitch. According to a Microsoft spokesperson: "At this time there is no specific data connector for xRM, however it is possible to build a WCF RIA Service wrapper for xRM to make its data available to LightSwitch. This demonstrates the flexibility of LightSwitch. We are working to ensure we have the most commonly used data support for LOB apps, and through WCF RIA Services, other data may be made available."

Topics: Hardware, Browser, CXO, Microsoft, Software Development

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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14 comments
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  • RE: Microsoft's LightSwitch: Building business apps for Web, PCs and cloud

    Business applications with connection only to Excel, Sharepoint or Azure: MS for sure knows how to keep their customers on a short leash..... Looks like MS is trying to quickly catch up with Alpha Five.... have a look at that - connection to any kind of sql db, and very much built on the same principles as Foxpro, Access and Alpha and truely serving the objective of RAD - and yes in the hands of the wrong person(s) atrocities can be built, but that holds true for any IDE. Thanks for reading to the end!
    pcs@...
  • LightSwitchOff

    At this time it has nothing to do with VisualFoxPro. For vfp developers this is LightSwitchOff. "Having excell export at a click...applause" - this is a line of code in vfp - copy to xxx.xls type xls and this was from the dos version....and nobody applaused for that... It was funny and a little bit ridiculous at least for me. I don't expect vfp developers, in fact any developers to look at that tool rather by curiosity. Maybe people who did knew some foxpro commands but were not programmers and want to play with a new toy, but not for developers. It is just another framework in an attempt to gain success over others .net frameworks sellers.
    ghircoiascamil
    • LightSwitchOff for VFP Developers

      The advent of MLS really speculates many developers like me. I was absolutely disgusted about the fate of VisualFoxpro. "A very big WWW!!!" WHY do Microsoft just put aside a very flexible database and programming language? WHAT are they planning about? and WHEN will they be contented? Make it fast STEVE, we're evaluating your JOBS...
      renz31
  • SL sketchflow, webmatrix now lightswitch...

    I'd rather save time by having a properly converged SL/WPF UI to write code to.
    rmac_z
  • RE: Microsoft's LightSwitch: Building business apps for Web, PCs and cloud

    Abstractions over coding are ten to a dozen, but most of the time the abstraction is so leaky that they're only useful for the most basic of problems.

    Occasionally someone hits gold and you get an Access or FoxPro, where the abstraction is capable enough and the compexity of implementing features which break said abstraction increases linearly.

    Hopefully this is one of them, but I wouldn't hold my breath :)
    radicalbyte
  • RE: Microsoft's LightSwitch: Building business apps for Web, PCs and cloud

    Really Interesting would be to connect to sql azure...
    jaimepremy@...
    • RE: Microsoft's LightSwitch: Building business apps for Web, PCs and cloud

      @jaimepremy@... SQL Azure is a supported data source out-of-the-box, along with SQL Server, Oracle (and all db's supported by .NET), SharePoint, and Access (not in Beta 1). You can use WCF RIA Services to wrap other data sources and make them available to LightSwitch.
      dseven
  • .

    .
    e_caroline@...
  • Programming requires programmers

    For the past decades.... ever since widespread desktop computing became the norm... there have been an endless supply of efforts to make programming available to non-programmers.<br><br>The very earliest Lotus 1-2-3 and Visicalc spreadsheets were an effort to do so. LightSwitch looks to be yet another effort in a long line of failed efforts to take the programmer out of programming.<br><br>Yet... no matter what you try to do..... it always requires programming skills to create a usable end product.<br><br>There is no substitute for analyzing a situation and understanding it and programming a solution.<br><br>Every effort to pretend that that you can somehow prefab all-possible-applications for the non-programmer... always ends up with another programming language being developed.<br><br>Using spreadsheets as an example....<br><br>Working to develop a spreadsheet application that is more complex than an expensive "paper tape calculator substitute".. requires the user to know the "programming language" that the formulas and formatting commands constitute.<br><br>Pretty much every formula in the spreadsheet language are duplicates of ones found in Basic, QuickBASIC, VisualBasic, QBasic, COBOL, RPG, Fortran, Pascal, C, and so on. Same thing with the formatting. <br><br>Any programming language above Assembler has these features.. and every piece of software designed to circumvent the need to learn programming ends up requiring one to learn another programming language dialect.<br><br>Large bloated companies... the bureaucratic kind with huge programming staffs of rote coders... are forever trying to develop and sell products to a naive user public by claiming that somehow a software purchase will save them the bother of learning something difficult and complicated.<br><br>Yet... the software purchased.., always ends up requiring them to learn something difficult and complicated.<br><br>LightSwitch looks about like RPG II with a GUI. It seems it might as well be named VisualRPG. Goodness knows how many zillion programming hours went into reinventing this wheel by programing teams who probably think they dreamed up something original.<br><br>Giant organizations that are the equivalent of gray-goo are the least likely place for anything original to originate.<br><br>
    e_caroline@...
  • RE: Microsoft's LightSwitch: Building business apps for Web, PCs and cloud

    I've been a pro-coder for a long time - I mean a long time. I've earned a good living thanks to Microsoft tools and as far as LightSwitch is concerned all I can say is I haven't been this excited since the initial release of VB way back when. By the way before anyone knocks me down - I code in VB, C# C++ and Java - different tools - different strengths but at last it looks like we can build RAD apps for the web without all the usual faffing about - Way to Go LightSwitch!
    robinharris55@...
  • RE: Microsoft's LightSwitch: Building business apps for Web, PCs and cloud

    Well I cant say I am impressed so far but I will not pass judgement quite yet. I am one of these who believe programming is for the programmer simple as. I recently reviewed it at www.gallagherit.co.uk and the results where not very inspiring.
    bguk73
  • RE: Microsoft's LightSwitch: Building business apps for Web, PCs and cloud

    Cheers to RobinHarris, it takes a good developer to see the end result in the long run, it really takes a sour ass to pull others down while trying.<br><br>The need for developers will always be there, empowering non programmers to have a bit play time in our park, allows us to think about the bigger picture, i.e. Webservices, customization, advanced methods,procedures .....<br><br>The above said, being a developer for many years myself and been taught a new trick or two by a newbie.<br><br>Hats off to anyone seeing the bigger picture..... nicely done MS, will definitely be looking at your final release of LightSwitch
    zafatmw
  • RE: Microsoft's LightSwitch: Building business apps for Web, PCs and cloud

    I'd like to unpack a bit of this.

    1. It's nice to have more user-friendly tools for development. A lot of programmers have refound "joy" in Ruby, Python. The ability to formulate a solution is dependent not only upon understanding it, but being able to implement. Interpreted language satisfy the human curiosity of trying strategies in the small and finding an appropriate foundation to build upon. Compiled environments present a steeper curve and sometimes an insurmountable obstacle to such exploration, since it involves continual refactoring in the exploration phase.

    2. Developing asynchronous web applications is much more complex than traditional desktop/client/server apps. Hiding that complexity and allowing users/programmers to work with business rules more directly makes it more feasible and cost-effective to develop business type applications and utilities. This is a smart move by MS and opens up a whole new level of application development in the corporate environment, particularly for companies with multiple locations, remote sales reps, etc. The way I see it, it's an easy to use ASP.NET app builder.

    3. Both VFP and Access were interpreted environments with data backends. But, that's where the similarity ends. VFP is a true programming language -- not an all purpose language, to be sure, but unparalleled as a desktop database environment. Most major business applications started out as dBase/FP/VFP applications in the 80s and 90s. Some of the top business developers have used the tool. Access is an end-user tool.

    4. Developers shouldn't be afraid of end users programming. The downside is that many such apps are never finished, and they're turned over, with an unnormalized data model and mess of business rules, to a developer as being "90% done." But, other than client perception, the imaginative developer can gain much valuable information from the domain experts who've written the app.
    jvansanten@...
  • RE: Microsoft's LightSwitch: Building business apps for Web, PCs and cloud

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