Microsoft today flipped the switch on the beta 2 release of Visual Studio LightSwitch, the company’s framework for creating line-of-business applications with little or no code. Final availability is scheduled for later this year.
LightSwitch is aimed at a type of worker Microsoft is calling “business developer,” which is akin to a “power user” who wants to be able to customize views and data sets to create an application he or she is likely to use, according to Dave Mendlen, senior director of developer marketing at Microsoft.
With beta 2, Microsoft is trying to do a better job of messaging. “Beta 1 confused people,” Mendlen said. “Developers thought it was a horrible tool. But we didn’t build it for them—only from the perspective of when [an application built in LightSwitch] gets passed to them, they can see it’s built on technology they’re familiar and comfortable with.”
The notion of “business development” is “a wave we can’t stop,” said Jason Beres, vice president of product management at Infragistics, a software tool company that created a shell and custom themes for LightSwitch.
“End users want more self-service, and we hear the same thing from developers who are tired of asking, ‘Do I really have to create another data entry screen?’ ” he said. “When LightSwitch beta 1 came out, a vocal minority of the developer community said this was ruining applications, and they feared they’d have to fix all these applications.”
Business users need flexibility to customize views and screens for their departments, and the tools to do that must be easy to use, Beres said. “The user experience is so important now. Interaction design and visual design are now a big part” of the elements of line-of-business applications.
But LightSwitch, he said, is not taking work away from a professional .NET developer. Mendlen echoed that sentiment, saying the application life cycle here usually begins with a business user creating some small line-of-business application for his or her department. If there’s broad uptake from the users, and then the business sees it can be put to use in other departments, the application would be passed to the professional development staff, which would then work on back-end integrations and scaling the application for enterprise-wide use, he explained.
“The application can be given to the professional developer later because the underlying architecture is scalable and modern,” said Beres.
In the beta 2 release, Microsoft added the ability to publish applications to the Windows Azure cloud operating system environment. It is available in English and German; the final release will have support for the same 10 languages in which Visual Studio is available, such as Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.
Infragistics rounds out the framework with controls that work in the LightSwitch shell. For instance, users can swap out a numeric value text box within the shell for a slider control, or change a default value from a text box to a map control, Beres said.
Infragistics also provides custom screen options beyond the default screens offered in LightSwitch, and the company has also created a custom shell extension that it says is simpler to implement. “We think that will be attractive to business users,” Beres said.