Microsoft Launches LightSwitch Beta 2

Microsoft launches Beta 2 of its LightSwitch tool which is aimed at less technical developers to create line of business applications for the desktop, the web and the cloud.

Microsoft has announced the availability of Visual Studio LightSwitch Beta 2, a tool that makes it simple for developers to quickly create custom business applications for the desktop, Web and the cloud.

Microsoft made the announcement at a Tools Summit event on the company's Redmond, Wash., campus involving 200 of its partners. LightSwitch will be available to download on the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) on March 15 and to consumers at on March 17. Many of the partners present on campus are part of the Microsoft Visual Studio Partner (VSIP) Program.

Dave Mendlen, Microsoft's senior director of developer marketing, told eWEEK that LightSwitch "extracts away code and allows you to focus on the business problem you want to solve."

According to the LightSwitch Website:

""With LightSwitch, you can build custom applications that rival off-the-shelf solutions. Get a head start by using pre-configured screen templates that give your application a familiar look and feel. LightSwitch also provides prewritten code and other reusable components to handle routine application tasks, along with helpful step-by-step guidance. However, if you need to write custom code, you can use Visual Basic .NET or C#. You can deploy to the desktop, browser, or cloud (post-Beta) to share your application with others more easily without the cumbersome installation processes.""

LightSwitch Beta 2 introduces new functionality in addition to acting on feedback from Beta 1, including Windows Azure publishing and extensibility. Windows Azure publishing is fully integrated into the LightSwitch integrated development (IDE) making it easier for developers to deploy business applications to the cloud, which builds on the products promise of being a business application development tool for the cloud.

"I think LightSwitch represents a good opportunity to reach out to a group of users that would like to be able to develop situation apps, but look at Java and .Net complexity and say -no thank you,'" said Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst with Forrester. There's a class of users out there that used to be able to use VB, Lotus Notes and Access to develop simple apps at the department level - but these folks were largely left behind in the transition from client/server to the Web."

Mendlen said with Visual Studio LightSwitch Beta 2 Microsoft has expanded the number of supported languages to include German in addition to English. A Japanese version is in the works, but timing for its release has not been confirmed. The final version of LightSwitch will be ready this year and will be available in the same 10 languages that Visual Studio is available in: English, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Spanish.

"If Microsoft really gets behind LightSwitch with marketing and its partners support it with controls and templates, I think it could be a next generation VB," Hammond said. "There are lots of -millenials' coming into the workplace that have some basic programming skills they acquired in high school and college, I see no reason why they couldn't use a tool like LightSwitch like my generation used Access, VB and Office to automate simple tasks and applications."

John Rymer, Hammond's partner in analysis at Forrester, added, "I think LightSwitch has to come together with SharePoint to completely fill that gap. I also think that LightSwitch + Azure will be crucial. Azure now is a play for professional developers. Competitors like WaveMaker (just acquired by VMware), OrangeScape, Caspio, Servoy, and to some degree Salesforce have much more productive products than anything in the Microsoft Azure portfolio. Microsoft needs to move fast to be competitive in this cloud arena."

Yet, Microsoft says with extensibility, professional developers can use Visual Studio Professional or higher to create LightSwitch application extensions, which are reusable components that add functionality to an application. Available extension points include themes, screen templates, shells, data sources, business types and controls.

Microsoft partners also are offering controls for LightSwitch, including the new Beta 2 release. Infragistics is one such partner. Jason Beres, vice president of product management at Infragistics, said Infragistics developed a LightSwitch custom shell extension that shows off the flexibility of LightSwitch without having to write any code. Infragistics also added multitouch support to their application, he said.

"We've been involved with LightSwitch since the beginning and we think we've created the ultimate shell experience with a multitouch shell," Beres said. "Overall, we're enhancing the default experience you're going to have as a controls story."

Infragistics has offered controls for Microsoft's .NET technology for several years.

Beres also pointed out that, although Microsoft initially created LightSwitch with the intent of appealing to non-programmers or less sophisticated developers, he has noticed that a lot of professional programmers have taken notice of the technology.

"The professional developer community has latched on," Beres said. "The .NET community needs a tool to build simpler things like CRUD [Create, Read, Update and Delete] and data entry screens and things like that. LightSwitch is perfect for that.

Meanwhile, Mendlen said Microsoft has done some independent research that indicates that the Visual Studio platform and ecosystem is far outshining the Java-based, open-source Eclipse platform. For instance, on average over a six-month period, the Visual Studio Gallery had 230,000 unique visitors and had 14,000. In terms of downloads, Visual Studio Gallery had 460,000 and had 43,000 (only in the last 30 days). The total number of projects on Visual Studio Gallery was 2286 and had 1027. And as far as the top installed extensions, for Visual Studio Gallery it was Pro Power Tools with 34,000 in a month, while for it was Subclipse with around 5,000 in a month.

"There has always been a difference between the Eclipse ecosystems and the .NET one," Beres said, noting that the numbers discrepancy between the Eclipse and .NET ecosystems is natural. "In .NET, developers, from the beginning with custom controls, have always felt the need to buy controls. People are used to buying solutions. Eclipse and Java is the exact opposite. Coming from the open source world, people didn't expect to pay."