Microsoft’s Visual Studio Live! is a developer’s conference that is all about development in the Visual Studio environment. Visual Studio Live! Orlando was held at the Hilton Walt Disney World Resort in November 2010. One of the big announcements from this conference was the launch date for Visual Studio LightSwitch.
Visual Studio LightSwitch is a rapid development environment that gives technical and somewhat technical people the ability to create lightweight, line-of-business applications. While many developers don’t think Visual Studio LightSwitch will be useful for creating applications, I think it can be very beneficial to use in the right circumstances. Here are some reasons why.
Right-sized versus enterprise-ready
In recent years there has been a growing philosophy that everything needs to be enterprise-ready. The prevailing thought is that all solutions need to be scalable, flexible, “anything-able.” While that is true for anything that really does need to be enterprise-ready, there are situations where enterprise-ready is too much.
Imagine you are a small startup. You are not focused on enterprise-ready. You are focused on getting through your first year. Alternately, you might be an established organization that is considering getting into a new line of business. Focusing on getting something up and running to let your employees share information in a cost-effective way would ensure that you are not risking valuable resources (that is, capital). In today’s economy, capital budgets are limited (and nonexistent in some companies).
The Best of Both Worlds
The best of both worlds
Traditionally, we have seen tools such as Access, Excel and, more recently, SharePoint, act as a useful starting point for a low-cost prototype. The best thing that can be said of those initial forays in developing line-of-business applications is that usually all of the necessary data points have been identified and there is a working prototype. I find that having a working prototype is immeasurably helpful when starting an enterprise application development effort.
While Access and Excel solutions do provide value when moving to the next level of maturation, Visual Studio LightSwitch can provide even more. Since Visual Studio LightSwitch can connect to Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle databases, the application can utilize either of those databases during the initial development.
Visual Studio LightSwitch also generates an ADO.Net Entity Framework (EF) class structure that can be used in the next iteration of development. Finally, the interface is rendered to a Microsoft Silverlight application.
Recently, I had a customer request a simple application for generating quotes for customers and tracking them in a Web format. Taking this use case, it was decided to give LightSwitch a go. We were able to build a working prototype for the need within four hours-complete with the database tables, class structure and Microsoft Silverlight interface. Normally, in a traditional Web development environment, this would have taken close to 40 hours to get to the same point.
Efficiency vs. Maturation
Efficiency versus maturation
Some people point out that if this right-sized application is successful, that it will need to be rebuilt, usually from the ground up. While this is mostly true, it’s relevant to restate that having a working prototype does reduce the risk (risk=time+money) in starting a new application.
So, would it be more efficient to build the enterprise-ready version of the application first? The assumption there is that you are going to get the application right the first time or that the application will be used for a period of time to recover its return on investment. But aren’t those two very big assumptions? Furthermore, aren’t those two very expensive assumptions?
Also, it’s relevant to say that enterprise software endeavors are never guaranteed successes. We all know the high rate of failure for traditional development, whether it is done using an agile or waterfall approach. Approximately 50 percent of all features are either never used or rarely used. Why not develop those features inexpensively first and then decide what needs to be in your final application? These are the types of benefits Microsoft’s Visual Studio LightSwitch can provide, making it something to consider moving forward.
Patrick Emmons is Director of Professional Services at Adage Technologies. Patrick is an accomplished technical architect with more than 15 years of programming and Web development experience. He is also a Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD). Prior to his position at Adage, Patrick was a principle for another Web development firm and also worked as a developer and consultant for Ameritech, Motorola and Baker Robbins. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.