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Rapid Business Application Development with Visual Studio LightSwitch

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Microsoft has released Visual Studio LightSwitch 2011, a simplified development tool intended to speed up the creation of custom business applications. It includes pre-built components, templates, and predefined data types for the most common business needs, and allows developers to produce form-driven applications for either desktop use or deployment to the cloud.

As Jason Zander explains, 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.

LightSwitch attempts to speed up development by making architecture choices for the developer, leaving them to focus on the business logic. It includes several starter kits to help create some of the most common business applications, such as:

  • Customer invoicing and account management
  • Employee performance reviews
  • Status reports
  • Expense tracker
  • Time entry and reporting
  • Issue tracker
  • Job candidate tracker and open position management

These starter kits can be downloaded and used as templates for development in either C# or Visual Basic. LightSwitch also supports the use of third-party extensions that can be integrated into a business application for functionality like interactive reporting, document viewing, and rich editing. In addition, there are extensions for a variety of data providers including Google, QuickBooks, Facebook, Twitter, Salesforce, and SharePoint.

A typical three-tier LightSwitch application will involve the following:

  1. Silverlight-based presentation layer (Silverlight 4.0, Office Automation, WCF RIA Services Client)
  2. Logic layer (ASP.NET, WCF RIA Services, Entity Framework, OData)
  3. Storage layer (SQL Server, SQL Server Express, SQL Azure, or SharePoint)

The logic tier can be hosted locally, on Windows Azure, or on IIS. Deployment to the desktop or a hosted environment is a matter of selecting that option, rather than changing architecture. Because LightSwitch uses the same kind of project templates, it also integrates with Visual Studio Professional, Premium, and Ultimate (though LightSwitch must be installed in order to work with its projects within Visual Studio).

Visual Studio LightSwitch 2011 retails at $299; a free 90-day trial is available from Microsoft.

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