First look at Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch
(See what I did there?)
Visual Studio LightSwitch is a new platform designed to make it simpler to create line-of-business applications for the desktop and the cloud.
It is currently in Beta 2 and can be downloaded from the Microsoft site free of charge.
LightSwitch contains pre-configured screen templates and other re-usable components to handle many routine business application tasks. You can write code in C# or VB.NET and deploy it to the desktop, web or Windows Azure.
So that’s enough of the marketing headlines, you can read plenty more of them on the official web site, let’s have a go at making something and see what it is really like….
Once you have downloaded and installed LightSwitch (you must have Visual Studio SP1 installed first), open Visual Studio and you will notice a new set of templates under LightSwitch.
Choose your preferred language, give your app a name and click ‘OK’. This will take you to the LightSwitch Home Page (View > Home Page).
From the Home Page you can choose to connect to an existing external datasource, such as MS SQL Server (no support for Stored Procedures at present), SharePoint or a WCF RIA Service, or create a new table in an internal SQL Express database.
Defining the Data
Choose the ‘Create new table’ option and add the following fields:
Click the title of the table in the Data Designer or Properties Window and change it to “Contacts” and save the table.
Finally, click the ‘Relationship…’ button in the Designer toolbar and configure the relationship as follows:
Adding a Screen
When you click the ‘Screen…’ button in the Designer toolbar, you will be shown this dialog:
Choose a ‘List and Details Screen’ and set the Screen Data to ‘Companies Set’. Ensure that the check boxes to include both sets of additional data are checked and click ‘OK’ to add the screen to the application. This will take you to the Screen Designer, which displays a representation of the layout and commands for the screen:
But don’t worry about the Screen Designer right now – we can have a look at all that another day. For now let’s just run the application…
The application created for us by LightSwitch allows us to view our company contact data in a master-detail format and has a lot of functionality for very little effort:
We can add, edit and delete companies and contacts, as well as performing various other tasks such as searching and exporting:
And the user interface contains some basic validation, based on the data we defined:
There has been a mixed reception to LightSwitch from the developer community, with many perhaps justifiably worried that it may lead to a new plaque of ‘Office Expert’ Access Forms-style mini-applications of the type that many organisations have tried so hard to eradicate. However, there is no doubting that this is a very impressive piece of technology that allow you to build a functional application very quickly.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, LightSwitch apps run in C# or VB.NET and can use a variety of datasources, so perhaps the instructions to the ‘Office Experts’ should be as Dave Mendlen, Microsoft Senior Director of Developer Tools and Platform Marketing suggests: “if you are going to go rogue, use LightSwitch”. That way at least it can be handed over to a more experienced .NET developer if necessary.