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Microsoft #LightSwitch Defends Productivity

At VSLive today, I had the pleasure of introducing Microsoft Corporate VP Jason Zander. And he had the pleasure of introducing Visual Studio LightSwitch. Pleasure is a theme here, because the product, to me at least, looks great.

LightSwitch is a .NET based environment, hosted in Visual Studio, that allows developers to build business apps.  Quickly.  It harkens back, with pride, to tools of old, like VB6 and FoxPro, that made data, and data maintenance UIs, first class citizens.  These tools also treated line-of-business developers as VIPs, not as the great unwashed.

LightSwitch builds Silverlight applications.  They can run locally (in or out of the browser) and they can also run on Windows Azure.  They can work with any database, but the development environment makes it very easy to create SQL Server databases, and can then deploy them to SQL Azure.  The stock UIs look very Microsoft Office-like, but third parties can build alternative skins/themes that plug right into the environment.  Infragistics already has a prototype.  Microsoft showed it on stage today.  And it did look really nice.

Data validations are built in.  Search is built in.  Business data types (rather than simple database or .NET data types) are built in.  LightSwitch takes away the burden of creating a bunch of plumbing for corporate apps.  Plumbing that you either have to write every time, or else use some framework that, by definition, won’t be very standard.

Tools in the 1990s did this too.  Then the 2000s came and many of those tools largely went away.  Now one has come back, and it targets the modern Microsoft stack, including Silverlight and Azure and the Entity Framework and WCF RIA Services.  With considerably less working in the weeds to use these technologies than has been required until now.  And, yes, LightSwitch lets write .NET code when you need to.

I watched the tweets fly by during the keynote.  Many expressed curiosity and excitement.  Others expressed dismay.  Dismay that “lesser” developers will have access to the modern stack.  Dismay that they’ll build the apps quickly.  And dismay that Microsoft wants to enable them.  The dismay was often uttered under the cover of concern for stability, scalability and maintainability.

To the dismayed, I must say: get over it, and stop worrying.  There’s room for productivity developers.  There’s room for enterprise developers.  They don’t have to be at odds.  This is not a zero sum game.

We need productivity programmers to be accommodated on the Microsoft stack.  if they are not, they will go to other stacks.  In fact, they already have.  We have to try and get them back.  They create opportunities for enterprise devs, and they create opportunities for their customers.  I hope LightSwitch appeals to them.  I hope it brings them back to the Microsoft ecosystem.  I don’t know if it will.  But even if it doesn’t, that doesn’t make it a bad idea.  Celebrating difficulty and demonizing productive ease?  To me, that’s the bad idea.



Feedback

# re: Microsoft #LightSwitch Defends Productivity

Andrew - great points on this new technology. MSFT has done a great job with aiding developers here. Biz App Programmers need productivity aids. Our point of view is that non-programmers ALSO need a way of creating biz apps that programmers can then enhance IF required (related to your tweet on this being a productive programmer tool rather than non-programmer tool).

A non-programmer can't live in Visual Studio, but a programmer should have 100% full access to everything, when needed.

MSFT has some of the best developer tools in the world. But non-developers(business analysts, power users, tech savvy users, etc) need a voice in the game too and that is what we are shooting to bring to the party to combine with VS.NET. 8/3/2010 2:35 PM | Amith Nagarajan

# re: Microsoft #LightSwitch Defends Productivity

Hi, Andrew,

LightSwitch reminds me of Access Data Projects (*.adp) but has the addition advantage of connecting to SQL Azure. Maybe ADPs will have that capability in an Access 2010 service pack.

Cheers,

--rj 8/3/2010 3:31 PM | Roger Jennings

# re: Microsoft #LightSwitch Defends Productivity

As Mary Jo Foley reports http://is.gd/e0PhR Dave Medlen reportedly says that:

"Microsoft’s idea is that LightSwitch users will be able to “hand off their apps to professional Visual Studio developers to carry them forward"

This sound rather as a serious threat. ;) I hope everybody who will asking at least will also pay serious money for this.

As a professional developer I can easily tell you how it will looks like. We would have to simply throw off such a code and made it in normal way (not by "checkbox driven development") from scratch.

From where I know this for sure? Well, we all have already been there. There were such things as VisualBasic, Access and FoxPro. They were big success many people says. Well, even after almost decade we have to deal with these apps which were on 90% written in quick-and-dirty way by people who seriously do not understand how to write code in professional way.

Seriously it is not possible to write such apps in that way and expect (everybody will expect that) that they will work as an professionaly developed apps.

As D'Arcy wrote - Software Development is Hard, Get Over It! (http://geekswithblogs.net/dlussier/archive/2010/08/03/141163.aspx)

thanks,
Slavo.

8/3/2010 4:36 PM | SlavoF

# re: Microsoft #LightSwitch Defends Productivity

My take on all of this is it could help to develop "shells" so that we can hopefully turn out projects faster. I understand that many of the "bling" will need to be added but at least it saves us the step of creating all the base work each time. 8/9/2010 7:29 AM | twknox

# re: Microsoft #LightSwitch Defends Productivity

One other point that I think is being missed here is the potential to use LightSwitch as a business modeling tool and prototyping tool.

It should give application designers and business process modelers a good way to provide quick sketches of a new application or enhanced functionality for existing apps.

Once the business sponsor buys in, after being able to see a real app and not a PowerPoint, the LightSwitch app is then handed to development where they use it simply as a design spec to build the production code.

I was on the original Delphi team at Borland and this is one of the uses we saw for Delphi. LightSwitch appears to be a great path to the Silverlight-Azure stack for visualizing new applications. 8/16/2010 8:49 PM | Frank Frazier

# re: Microsoft #LightSwitch Defends Productivity

It will be a great prototyping tool, but if you worked on the Delphi team, then you know that this is exactly what people said not only of Delphi, but of the product it was deigned to kill: Visual Basic. Back then, the assumption was that the production app would be worked up in C++ because VB was just for prototyping. Didn't exactly turn out that way, with either VB or "VBK" (VB Killer, the rumored code name for Delphi). 8/16/2010 9:28 PM | Andrew Brust

# re: Microsoft #LightSwitch Defends Productivity

I do not think Slavo (or D'Arcy, for that matter) could be more wrong.

The point of software development is not to make software developers. Nor is software development about providing a way to "grow from novice to professional". The point isn't to provide a "progress path" from wherever they start to ultimately end up in VS/.NET (as much as I am sure that's what MS would love to do).

The point of software development is to get the job done, done right, and done quickly. That's what software development is about: producing a product that accomplishes the goals it set out to accomplish.

The vast majority of software doesn't need to scale. The "case studies" you see that attempt to downplay products like this (and other's like MS Access, et all) as being unscalable don't take into account that such cases are relatively RARE. The argument that "we (ahem) professional developers get stuck supporting end user designed packages" is hardly the norm. Sometimes, the things don't need to scale because the underlying task doesn't need to scale.

And these cases outnumber the enterprise cases, probably like an hundred to one. Over twenty years, I've had to work on a handful of enterprise apps. During the same time, I've designed, developed, implemented hundreds of departmental, "productivity" apps.

Let's face it: we productivity developers outnumber you enterprise developers in huge numbers. And simply working for a large corporation does not put you in the enterprise camp. I wrote at least half of my productivity/single-purpose apps while working for a regional electric utility, and some of the country's largest petroleum and energy companies. Even "inside the enterprise", the environment is still dominated by departmental applications.
11/13/2010 5:50 PM | Kirby L. Wallace

# re: Microsoft #LightSwitch Defends Productivity

I think Kirby's points are well-state, and well-taken, quite frankly.
11/13/2010 11:09 PM | Andrew Brust

# re: Microsoft #LightSwitch Defends Productivity

Kirby is right on the money. Businesses need to get work done. If you stand in the way with a grudge against the person signing your paycheck, you should find something else to do. The rest of us are trying to make money for our clients by quickly providing solutions to problems. Go LightSwitch, Go! 11/22/2010 1:52 PM | Paul Pleasant

# re: Microsoft #LightSwitch Defends Productivity

Visual Studio LightSwitch indeed looks amazing. It is truely a step forward. Thanks for the post 3/23/2011 12:28 PM | gokken