Microsoft Launches Visual Studio LightSwitch

Microsoft announces the release of Visual Studio LightSwitch, a new tool that simplifies the development of line-of-business applications using templates and other shortcuts.

Microsoft has released its latest development tool, Visual Studio LightSwitch, to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers.

Simply put, LightSwitch is a new tool aimed at business application developers who may not be versed in the art of programming. Microsoft says LightSwitch is the simplest way to build business applications for the cloud and the desktop. Users can take their LightSwitch applications to the cloud by publishing to Windows Azure directly from the LightSwitch integrated development environment (IDE).

LightSwitch provides a variety of prebuilt templates and tools to build business applications that target Windows Client or Windows Azure using as much or as little code as you want to write, said S. "Soma" Somasegar, senior vice president of Microsoft's Developer Division, in blog post introducing the technology last year.

"You can quickly build line-of-business applications beginning with only one decision-Visual Basic or C#," Somasegar said.

In a July 26 blog post, Jason Zander, corporate vice president for the Visual Studio Team at Microsoft, said LightSwitch starts with the premise that most business applications consist of data and the screens that users interact with. LightSwitch simplifies attaching to data with data source wizards or creating data tables with table designers, Zander said. It also includes screen templates for common tasks so you can create clean interfaces for your applications without being a designer. Basic applications can be written without a line of code. However, users can add custom code that is specific to their business problem without having to worry about setting up classes and methods.

The LightSwitch tool better enables business domain experts to easily build professional-quality line-of-business applications without focusing on writing code. "This is critical because these business applications-which may be built out of a short-term need-often need to be extended and IT supported," Somasegar said.

To help users get better acquainted with the tool, Zander put together a video that highlights some of the features within LightSwitch, along with sessions on how to build applications using it.

Starter Kits are one of the key features for users who pick up LightSwitch. The LightSwitch Starter Kits help users jump-start their development with basic project templates for common business needs. For instance, there are Starter Kits for budget management, expense tracking, customer service, issue tracking, job candidate tracking, performance reviews, status reports and time tracking.

In addition, LightSwitch users can build forms from existing templates and populate them with data from data sources including SQL Server, SQL Azure, SharePoint and others, Somasegar said. There also is integrated support for working with Microsoft Office for tasks such as exporting data to Excel without having to write code.

"Within minutes you can have a basic business application created and ready to deploy, leveraging disparate data sources and Office tools," Somasegar said. "While developing your application, you can modify the application as it runs."

Moreover, LightSwitch applications are extensible, which means users can update their application in the future with minimal disruptions. Extension points are business data types, screen templates, data sources, themes, shells and custom controls, Zander said.

"In addition to being able to create your own extensions, our launch partners-ComponentOne, DevExpress, First Floor Software, Infragistics and RSSBus-are making a variety of extensions available for use today," Zander added.

LightSwitch also creates Silverlight applications. "LightSwitch creates Silverlight applications that can run in the browser, out of the browser or in the cloud," Somasegar said. "When your application grows, you can use Visual Studio 2010 Professional, Premium or Ultimate to extend and customize it further."

Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch 2011 is available for download for MSDN subscribers. Non-MSDN subscribers can get LightSwitch starting July 28 or download a free trial now.