A rapid application development tool released by Microsoft last month will change the way applications are written, much as PowerPoint changed the approach to presentations, says Mark Runge, a beta tester of Visual Studio LightSwitch, the new RAD tool from Microsoft.
Runge, an experienced beta tester over several years, is now living in New Zealand after some years in Australia where he was major accounts manager for both Microsoft and then Oracle. He is the co-founder of Sync International, which developed and sells merchandising software as a service.
“LightSwitch is targeted at line of business departments,” he says. “Anyone who has previously used Microsoft Excel, Access or even FoxPro can build applications. It replaces all departmental isolated solutions.
“This is for people who are not paid to write code. It would be a very good thing for IT departments to support it because it takes care of those smaller requirements in the application backlog that departments need but IT doesn’t have the time to do.”
He says LightSwitch takes care of all the plumbing and deployment work and even generates its own code.
It started as Project Kitty Hawk five years ago and went to beta 1 in August 2010. Beta 2 came out in March, and the release date was July 26.
Runge says LightSwitch is primarily aimed at business but, in reality, has no bounds. “It allows non-programming people to easily develop sophisticated applications that work well and look good. It is perfectly positioned for, say, schools.”
He applied to be a beta tester “out of interest”. “Our company is always looking for better ways to do things.”
“LightSwitch is very extensible. It’s already taken off and third parties are writing custom shells, reporting tools and custom controls for it. An eco-system has been created that will grow dramatically.
“A lot of problems in writing software are in connecting to databases and services. That’s the bit Microsoft has solved allowing connections with existing applications, legacy systems and Web services.
“Deployment usually can be a real pain. But LightSwitch can be deployed by using a wizard as a Windows application, published to your own internet information server, or at an entry price of under $10 a month, you can publish to Microsoft’s cloud platform, Azure.
“I’m seeing a massive uptake and rapid deployment of applications.
“Its capabilities are dramatic; it does all data validation for you out of the box which is a huge time-saver
When creating a new LightSwitch project, the only decision needed to be made up front is what programming language to use: Visual C# or Visual Basic. Under the covers, LightSwitch projects are always logically three-tier applications and use n-tier best practices and patterns as well as familiar .NET technologies like Entity Framework, Silverlight and RIA services.
Visual Studio LightSwitch 2011 includes a variety of templates; more templates are available for download. LightSwitch supports SQL Server, SQL Azure, SharePoint, and Microsoft Office.