Visual Studio LightSwitch 2011 Now Available

Microsoft is releasing its Visual Studio LightSwitch 2011 product this week, a developer tool aimed at nonprofessional coders.

On Tuesday, LightSwitch 2011 was made available to MSDN subscribers. General availability, via Microsoft stores and resellers, is scheduled for this Thursday. A free, downloadable 90-day trial was also released on Tuesday, with registration required after 30 days to continue to use it. A LightSwitch license costs $299.

LightSwitch is a standalone tool for creating data-driven .NET applications that can be deployed to the Web, desktop or the Windows Azure cloud with little or no coding. Its first public beta was released to developers in August 2010 during the Visual Studio Live! conference. Beta 2 shipped in March with a Go-Live license for internal production use.

Jason Zander, corporate vice president for the Visual Studio team at Microsoft, announced the LightSwitch release in a blog post. He explained the thinking behind the latest addition to the Visual Studio family of products:

[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. 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, you can add custom code that is specific to your business problem without having to worry about setting up classes and methods.

Early on, LightSwitch received mixed reactions from developers, some of whom bemoaned the potential IT and security issues from providing lower barriers to entry to nonprofessional programmers.

LightSwitch offers starter kits for common business applications, preconfigured screen templates, themes and components for building line-of-business solutions without requiring code for common data-query, record-creation and maintenance tasks. If custom coding is required, projects can be migrated to Visual Studio 2010 (with Service Pack 1) for further development in C# or VB.NET.

Microsoft is heavily promoting the extensibility of LightSwitch solutions in hopes of creating a third-party ecosystem of extensions. At the Beta 2 launch, Andrew Brust, founder and CEO of Blue Badge Insights, told the audience that the ecosystem in his view was "comparable to the opportunity when Visual Basic 1.0 was entering its final beta roughly 20 years ago."

ComponentOne, DevExpress, First Floor Software, RSSBus and Infragistics are all offering extensions for LightSwitch on Tuesday as part of the launch.

Jason Beres, Infragistics vice president of product management, expects LightSwitch to help business users whose requirements fit somewhere in between one- and two-tier Microsoft Access applications and scalable solutions in Visual Studio.

"LightSwitch is the sweet spot in between, where I don't really want to get into the guts of code but I want something scalable and that can actually stand the test of lots of users and that is built on a modern platform," Beres said. "So if I need to write code, I can, but it would be desirable not to write code and our products fit into that."

LightSwitch extensions are available in the Visual Studio Gallery and are accessible via the Extension Manager within the IDE, which enables users to select extensions for use in current projects. In LightSwitch 2011, the six extensibility points include business type, control, custom data source, screen templates, shell and theme. Developers can learn more about extensibility from the LightSwitch Extensibility Cookbook, which was released with Beta 2.

About the Author

Kathleen Richards is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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