Microsoft has announced the forthcoming availability of LightSwitch at VSLive. It will be available in Beta from August 23rd. LightSwitch is a Visual Studio based tool that in theory allows non-programmers to create the applications they need - well not exactly.
What it really seems to be is a tool that allows Office type applications to be wired together. Think of it as a super macro generator where the macro language is either C# or Visual Basic .NET.
The standalone tool provides a simple GUI interface to connect to existing data in Access or Excel say or to create data tables. This claims to be easier to use to create simple databases with field types that match the real world - like phone numbers - and then create data entry and editing forms based on the specification including required fields, validation and formatting based on the data type.
This is, of course, nothing new in the wider programming world, easy-to-use databases like Access provided similar facilities, but it is still a time saver. The screens can be customised by the non-programming user in the usual way.
All of this is simple and generating the code manually is tedious so all good so far. However, as soon as the system moves into anything a little more difficult you have to write code. This too shouldn't be a surprise as most "codeless" systems come back to the need to write code when the going gets tough.
Beyond simple tables LightSwitch promises to allow joins between tables and to integrate data from diverse sources such as Sharepoint. If you think about it once again this is all fairly routine. It also claims to allow you to use SQL Azure for access to cloud data - again it isn't difficult to see how this could be arranged. Slightly more difficult is the ability to run the same app in a browser because of the sandbox making it difficult to access the data.
At the end of the day the user will run out of steam or need to move to code fairly quickly with LightSwitch. This isn't a huge problem as the code base is VB or C# and it's in Visual Studio and this means that you can take over and code manually. Of course how easy this is depends on how programmer-friendly the generated code is and for this we will have to wait for the beta or possibly a finished version.
Equally obvious is the fact that LightSwitch might provide us with a RAD development tool that really would mean that we could avoid writing lots of tedious regular code and yet still be able to take a prototype on to something that actually does something.
More information on LightSwitch coming soon!
For the moment you might like to look at the Microsoft video below (select full screen to see the details):