Announcing LightSwitch in Visual Studio 11 Beta!

It’s been a blast these last several months! 

After releasing our very first version of LightSwitch last summer, we’ve been extremely pleased to see the momentum that’s built up around it – from helpful community experts emerging in the forums, to community bloggers sharing their samples, the creation of our own User Voice site, and community members are sharing their LightSwitch extensions via the VS Gallery to further enhance productivity.  In that time, the product team also released the LightSwitch Extensibility Toolkit, a Metro-inspired Theme, and a hotfix for SQL Azure deployment to boot (oops on the last one! ;-)).

Ultimately, nothing is more rewarding for the product team than to see real customers apply the product in creative and interesting ways.  Going by anecdotal evidence, we knew folks had great stories to share about their experiences using LightSwitch to solve real-world business problems, so with the help of our friends at the LightSwitch Star contest was held to help folks shine the “light” on their great LightSwitch apps and stories

To top it all off, I’m excited to announce that LightSwitch is releasing an update in Visual Studio 11 that contains a bunch of bug fixes, feature enhancements, and totally cool scenarios that simply weren’t doable in v1.  What’s more, today marks the availability of Visual Studio 11 Beta so it’s yours to see for yourself and give it a whirl! 

We’ll be spending the next couple of weeks drilling into the details of what’s new for LightSwitch in VS11, but let me give you an overview to whet your appetite.

OData Support

First, LightSwitch in VS11 has embraced OData.  What’s OData you ask?  It’s an open-standards data protocol for querying and updating data built on Web technologies such as HTTP, Atom Publishing Protocol, and JSON to provide access to data from a variety of applications, services, and stores. In short, an increasingly broad set of web sites and applications are exposing their data via OData, and now LightSwitch in VS11 adds first-class support for connecting your business applications to OData feeds

But, we thought we’d spice things up more and turn our OData support on its head – in VS11, LightSwitch also makes is extremely easily to produce and deploy your own data as OData services.  This is both true for tables you define in your project as well as external data sources you connect to.  What this means is that the LightSwitch server pipeline (you know, the tier that provides data CRUD, queries, authentication, authorization, validation, etc.) is no longer a closed black box – other apps can now leverage the simplicity and power of LightSwitch via the OData feeds it exposes. 

Let me give a few example scenarios that illustrate why this feature is so cool.  Say you’d like to build an Excel spreadsheet that regularly pulls data from your app to enable analysis via pivot tables and charts – with LightSwitch OData feeds, you can now use Excel PowerPivot to connect to LightSwitch for powerful data analysis and visualization. 


Another scenario may be that you have an existing application that needs to access a data server in a standards-based and platform-agnostic way (think a Windows 8 Metro client you’ve built that stores data in the cloud, or a phone app, or even an app running on an iPad) – by coupling LightSwitch’s simple experience for connecting to different data source types, its prescriptive events-based programming model for writing business logic rules, and the ability to publish to the Cloud, you can now very easily make that data accessible to a broad set of clients running on a variety of platforms and devices.  I think you’ll agree that’s very cool!  Look for articles soon that give a lot of practical info on using OData in LightSwitch.

Defining Relationships within External Data Containers

We also wanted to use this release as an opportunity to address important feedback we heard from you.  One of the most popular requests we received was the ability to allow data relationships to be defined within the same data container (just like you can add relationships across data sources today). It turns out that there are quite a few databases out there that don’t define relationships in their schema – instead, a conceptual relationship is implied via data in the tables.  This was problematic for folks connecting LightSwitch to these databases because while a good number of defaults and app patterns are taken care for you when relationships are detected, LightSwitch was limited to only keying off of relationships pre-defined in the database.  Folks wanted the ability to augment the data model with their own relationships so that LightSwitch can use a richer set of information to generate more app functionality.  Well, problem solved – you can now specify your own user-defined relationships between entities within the same container after importing them into your project. This
functionality is available for database data sources only.

More Enhancements

We also agreed with you that it was a pain to add users one at a time (!) when managing access to your Windows-authenticated apps – so you can now assign Roles and Permissions to Active Directory security groups.  Other enhancements are: Web Address and Percentage were added to our collection of built-in business types to boost your productivity for these common data types, specifying custom formatting of numeric and date types is as easy as configuring a property, and adding static text and images to your screens has been greatly simplified.  The key point here is the team is listening, so please keep telling us how we can improve your experiences – making app development productive and fun is what we love to do!

Beta Resources

So with the availability of VS11 Beta, we’re excited about getting a preview of the next LightSwitch update into your hands – but don’t take our word for it, download the Beta and kick the tires for yourself!  And then help us learn from your experience by providing feedback – remember, log bugs via Connect, feature requests through User Voice, and ask as many questions as you want on the LightSwitch VS11 Beta forum.  One last note: VS11 Beta has a Go Live license, meaning you can build and deploy production-level apps  – so feel free to take existing LightSwitch 2011 projects, load them up in VS11, and open your apps to a whole new set of features and experiences.

For more information on Visual Studio 11, see:

Happy Beta testing! 
-John Stallo, Program Manager Lead – Visual Studio LightSwitch Team