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Light-weight apps and the LightSwitch development kit

Enterprise-scale applications – by that we mean big banger ”let’s-change-the-way-we-do-things-around-here” enterprise applications – are what we want to do, right? Of course. It is in human nature to want to make a strong impact.

But sometimes enterprise applications can be overdone. Grand ambition has its place, but it also invites a lot of risk, especially the risk of a failed project.

In a manner, we have seen scaled down ambitions transform the Java space. Spring and Seam and the latest version of Java EE are all about building smaller, simpler Web applications more quickly, and not trying to boil the ocean. Now, Microsoft is going the simpler-is-better route with its LightSwitch tool set, intended to rapidly build tactical applications.

This is somewhat ironic, because this is the company that wrote the book on this approach. Microsoft developer tools initially rose to prominence on the back of Visual Basic tools that were very much associated with rapid client-server application development. The application might not effectively scale, but it would prove the concept. PowerBuilder, another tool associated with that era – while kind of leaving some Visual Basic developers in the lurch. Maybe, in a way, LightSwitch is filling a gap that the .NET movement inadvertently created.

We recently spoke with Patrick Emmons, director of professional services at Adage Technologies, which builds custom software using ASP.NET for a variety of businesses. Emmons is very clear in stating that enterprise-ready is not for every situation and every person. He indicates that sometimes in a line-of-business within a large organization you have to move forward very quickly, and that, for a very young boot-strapping organization the expense of an enterprise-ready application is just overkill.  As an add-in to Visual Studio, Emmons advises, LightSwitch works just as if you were creating a project. It is a project template, but with an entirely different modeling tool for picking data sources. 

It is just in beta now, and a link to Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform is in the works. This may help in scaling up future LightSwitch applications. In any case, the LightSwitch idea seems to play both to the trends of the day and to historical ones.

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