Turn on to Microsoft’s LightSwitch

A number of companies such as Infragistics and Developer Express have already said they will be providing LightSwitch Extension wrappers for their Silverlight UI, Reporting and Data Visualization controls to enable those controls to be used within LightSwitch applications. Experienced developers may also develop their own custom controls in Silverlight using Visual Studio Professional, and then wrap them for
use in LightSwitch.

Turn on to Microsoft's LightSwitch

Using extensions

Using extensions is easy because they come in a VSIX installer, which you just double-click to add it into Visual Studio – include the extensions in your project by ticking their name in the Extensions Manager form in Visual Studio, and then you can use them as if they were standard controls such as Text Boxes or Grids.

If you’re writing business systems against databases it would be hard to find a faster way to turn out good-looking, working, secure and extensible applications

One available extension in LightSwitch beta 2 is a custom filter control that, when placed on a screen next to a grid, allows the user to filter the data in that grid by any combination of criteria, then save such filters so they can be used again.

The filter terms may employ data from any column in the grid, and can compare using all the standard comparators including “contains” and “does not contain”. Again, to deploy this extension in a LightSwitch application takes only one line of code. Most of the “programming” in LightSwitch involves dragging, dropping and setting properties; writing code is usually restricted to a line or two here or there (and once you’ve understood the principles that’s very easy).

Power-user programming using Access or Excel can be likened to playing with Plasticine, in that you need considerable spatio-visual skills and manual dexterity to produce good-looking results. LightSwitch programming on the other hand is far more like using Lego, where all the pieces fit together easily of their own accord, and when you need some complicated bits you can break out the Lego Technic.

If the power-user is happy to work with these standard bricks then he or she can pass the project over to the IT department, who can use their Technic skills and parts to enhance the product and ship it out to everyone who needs it. Scaling an application up to the cloud isn’t something a power-user should even attempt, but by starting from LightSwitch their application could end up there without having to be completely rewritten.

Some LightSwitch beta testers have commented that it’s so easy to use that it might replace Access as the database tool of choice for power-user development. I certainly hope so, but that will depend on the take-up and the price.

When is it available?

Microsoft hasn’t yet said when LightSwitch will be available, but an intelligent guess would be Q3/2011, as Beta 2 is due to expire at the end of October and there’s a Professional Developers Conference scheduled for mid-September.

As for price, Microsoft is remaining tight-lipped, having said only that it is aiming somewhere between Visual Studio Express, which is free, and Visual Studio Professional, which starts at around £450. My own best guess would be that LightSwitch will end up costing somewhere in the £50-£100 region by itself, but that it will also be bundled with Visual Studio Professional.

Perhaps it could even be given away when you buy SQL Azure services in the Microsoft cloud, but even if it cost £200 it would still be worth it because the sheer speed of development it permits is truly astonishing. Even if power-user developers don’t take it up, professional developers ought to seriously consider it.

If you’re writing business systems against databases it would be hard to find a faster way to turn out good-looking, working, secure and extensible applications.

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