What Developers Should Know About Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch

The first mention of Microsoft Visual
Studio LightSwitch
was at the VSLive! event in August of 2010. It’s gone
through two beta releases with an announced availability for version 1.0 to
MSDN subscribers on July 26. LightSwitch is an intriguing product focused on
building lightweight applications that access a data source and present results
through a variety of different screens. You can build fully functional
applications without writing any code, although if you need any customization
you’ll need to use either Visual Basic or C#.

Business developers are a prime target for LightSwitch. From
an application perspective, LightSwitch is aimed at minimally complex
applications with straightforward requirements. In many situations the basic
need is to grab some data and throw it up on the screen. You might need some
simple filter or query capability, but that’s just about it. You might call
LightSwitch the ad hoc developer’s tool, although that’s probably not what
Microsoft had in mind.

Data is the Key

Accessing multiple kinds of data is, without a doubt, the
single common thread amongst most business developers. The data might be stored
in a SQL server or even an Access database. Another common task is converting
data from one format to another and then storing it in a database. The obvious
data sources for a Microsoft shop are SQL Server and Microsoft Access.
Other possibilities include SharePoint,
SQL Azure and a Windows
Communication Foundation
(WCF) Rich
Internet Application
(RIA) Service.

That last one (WCF RIA) is essentially the glue between the
presentation tier and data access layer. Creating one of these things is way
beyond casual programmer knowledge and would be a potential opportunity for
enterprising ISVs. It also highlights the fact that you will need some
additional tools if the data you wish to access is stored in something other than
a Microsoft product.

Presentation Layer Magic

Creating quick-and-dirty applications is another stated goal
of LightSwitch. Visual Basic has filled this role for many years but doesn’t
really meet the needs of the casual developer. The biggest issue for creating
"custom" business applications is almost always how the information
is presented to the user. While Visual Basic does make it possible to build
simple applications, it does require a certain amount of coding using the
language to add the necessary functionality.

LightSwitch takes care of many of the rudimentary tasks for
which you have traditionally had to write code, such as querying a database and
filling a grid with the results. It provides a nice visual designer to create
your forms and reports. LightSwitch also adds a number of new capabilities for
data validation, such as recognizing an e-mail or telephone number field and
validating it for you. Be aware that LightSwitch refers to unique data input or
output forms as screens.

Opportunities

Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) should take a hard look
at LightSwitch from the perspective of potential add-on features. LightSwitch
has basic database connectivity capabilities out of the box but doesn’t even
begin to address all of the data sources businesses need to service. It’s also
somewhat limited in terms of the customized screen components although the
usual vendors here have already announced support.

The good news for programmers already familiar with Visual
Basic or C# is you don’t have to learn anything new. In fact, you can take your
VB or C# skills and put them to work right away with LightSwitch. If you want
to get started now, you’ll find an Extensions Cookbook and sample project
available on the MSDN
site
.

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