Microsoft’s Visual Studio LightSwitch: does it have a future?

A recent and thorough piece on Visual Studio LightSwitch prompted a Twitter discussion on what kind of future the product has. Background:

  • LightSwitch is an application generator which builds data-driven applications.
  • A LightSwitch application uses ASP.NET on the server and Silverlight on the client.
  • LightSwitch applications can be deployed to Windows Azure
  • LightSwitch apps can either be browser-hosted or use Silverlight out of browser for the desktop
  • LightSwitch is model-driven so in principle it could generate other kinds of client, such as HTML5 or Windows 8 Metro.
  • LightSwitch first appeared last year, and has been updated for Visual Studio 11, now in beta.

I have looked at LightSwitch in some detail, including a hands-on where I built an application. I have mixed feelings about the product. It was wrongly marketed, as the kind of thing a non-professional could easily pick up to generate an application for their business. In my opinion it is too complex for most such people. The real market is professional developers looking for greater productivity. As a way of building a multi-tier application which does its best to enforce good design principles, LightSwitch is truly impressive; though I also found annoyances like skimpy documentation, and that some things which should have been easy turned out to be difficult. The visual database designer is excellent.

The question now: what kind of future does LightSwitch have? Conceptually, it is a great product and could evolve into something useful, but I question whether Microsoft will stick with it long enough. Here is what counts against it:

  • The decision to generate Silverlight applications now looks wrong. Microsoft is not going to do much more with Silverlight, and is more focused on HTML5 and JavaScript, or Windows Runtime for Metro-style apps in Windows 8 and some future Windows Phone. There is some family resemblance between Windows Runtime and Silverlight, but not necessarily enough to make porting easy.
  • There is no mobile support, not even for Windows Phone 7 which runs Silverlight.
  • I imagine sales have been dismal. The launch product was badly marketed and perplexing to many.

What about the case in favour? Silverlight enthusiast Michael Washington observes that the new Visual Studio 11 version of LightSwitch generates OData feeds on the server, rather than WCF RIA Services. OData is a REST-based service that is suitable for consumption by many different kinds of client. To prove his point, Washington has created demo mobile apps using HTML5 and JQuery – no Silverlight in sight.


Pic from here.

Washington also managed to extract this comment from Microsoft’s Steve Hoag on the future of LightSwitch, in an MSDN forum discussion:

LightSwitch is far from dead. Without revealing anything specific I can confirm that the following statements are true:

– There is a commitment for a long term life of this product, with other versions planned

– There is a commitment to explore creation of apps other than Silverlight, although nothing will be announced at this time

Hoag is the documentation lead for LightSwitch.

That said, Microsoft has been known to make such commitments before but later abandon them. Microsoft told me it was committed to cross-platform Silverlight, for example. And it was, for a bit, at least on Windows and Mac; but it is not now. Microsoft was committed to IronRuby and IronPython, once.

For those with even longer memories, I recall a discussion on CompuServe about Visual Basic for DOS. This was the last version of Microsoft Basic for DOS, a fine language in its way, and with a rather good character-based interface builder. Unfortunately it was buggy, and users were desperate for a bug-fix release. Into this discussion appeared a guy from Microsoft, who announced that he was responsible for the forthcoming update to Visual Basic for DOS and asked for the top requests.

Good news – except that there never was an update.

The truth is that with LightSwitch still in beta for Visual Studio 11, it is unlikely that any decision has been made about its future. My guess, and it is only that, is that the Visual Studio 11 version will be little used and that there will be no major update. If I am wrong and it is a big hit, then there will be an update. If I am right about its lack of uptake, but its backing within Microsoft is strong enough, then maybe in Visual Studio 12 or even sooner we will get a version that does it right, with output options for cross-platform HTML5 clients and for Windows Phone and Windows Metro. But do not hold your breath.

11 thoughts on “Microsoft’s Visual Studio LightSwitch: does it have a future?”

  1. Answer: No
    Microsoft today has an anti-Silverlight focus, for many well documented reasons.
    LightSwitch ought to have been developed, or should be re-developed, to use the current zero-plug in client-side technology e.g. JQuery, Javascript, JSON etc..
    Not an easy job I grant you, but given that developers would then be able to build native Windows 8 applications AND have these run on other operating systems, it is the only thing that will save LightSwitch.

    Just my two-penneth!

  2. On LightSwitch’s “user voice” suggestion page, “Use HTML5 as representation layer instead of Silverlight” has the 2nd highest vote count. Given MS’s current push for HTML5 I would expect that to happen eventually.

    OTOH, there are 45% more votes for the #1 suggestion “Report Designer”. Also if you look at the comments under the HTML5 suggestion, many say they want HTML5 in addition to, not in place of, Silverlight support.

    The LightSwitch team is facing the same which-client-technology quandary that MS as a whole, and MS-customer devs are facing.


  3. Unlike LightSwitch, Visual Basic for MS-DOS (codenamed “Escher”) was a dog. I know, because I was a beta tester for both Visual Basic for Windows and MS-DOS. I stuck with the latter and never regretted it. I asked in my An (Almost) Lifetime of BASIC essay of 2001 “Does anyone remember VB for DOS, a.k.a Escher?”



  4. Thanks for the links to the LightSwitch Help Website – 🙂

    LightSwitch is really just another part of Visual Studio. The way MVC is. It is a bit like Entity Framework on steroids. It is the best way to build OData services, and OData is a big part of the Window8/WinRT future.

    The Silverlight screens are also still needed. If you need a desktop application with the best performance you will always want to use the Silverlight screens when you can.

  5. Lightswitch needs a really big win in a publically visible market application. That would get everybody’s attention and the monkey-see monkey-do phenomena could take over from that point forward.

  6. I find the Silverlight apps that it spits out are sluggish and ponderous and am looking forward the proper web-based output that must surely be in the works.

  7. Let’s see here:
    Silverlight – sluggish, ASP – fast
    Silverlight – requires plugin, ASP – pure web
    Lightswitch – very limited with its data manipulation, ASP – easily compatible with using SQL and other data sources!
    Lightswitch – Fight with their design to make the interface the way you need it
    vs ASP – Build the interface from the ground up!

    The only benefit I really see in this software is prototyping. I gave it a chance developing an application for it for a business and wow the amount of effort going into working against their model defeats the purpose of the software to begin with. They are better off just making an improved straight-ASP development tool.

  8. Businesses are built around solutions not software. The less time I have to spend writing code the better. Lightswitch is an awesome product, something that has been sorely missed. I really hope they continue to develop it and seeing what is on the cards it has a good 10 years in it.

  9. I’ve been looking for ages for a RAD IDE for web applications, something like Delphi was for Windows apps. I need a fast tool to develop data access from Web that works on PC, tablets and mobile, without knowing OOP, inheritance and polymorphism.

    I tried RADPHP, Morfik, Wavemaker and others. I stopped at LightSwitch because I believe my search is over. If it will generate apps accessible from any device, if I don’t have to learn heavy-weight languages, it will be a Rockstar tool, something like Access in the ’90.

    Microsoft, don’t miss this train also! The required effort is small!

  10. Hope LS would be the holy grail for RAD development. I’ve been a coder in the xbase era, and shifting to net based and windows app development hadn’t been a breeze. I’ve tried MS Access and Alpha Five but seems to fall out of love with the ease of getting your programs vulnerable in the data entry validation

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