With Microsoft’s Visual Studio LightSwitch beta software, users are given the opportunity to build business applications by using a simplified process, according to an early adopter. LightSwitch helps line-of-business and small business users quickly create both desktop and browser applications, with Azure cloud computing deployment planned in a future version.
Importantly, LightSwitch allows companies to try out new business models, without building full-fledged enterprise applications, according to Patrick Emmons, Director of Professional Services for Adage Technologies.
The simplicity of LightSwitch is beneficial, said Emmons. When creating an application, LightSwitch allows the developer to connect to data, bind it to the controls, add validation, then finally test and deploy in a more simplified way than is possible with the full-fledged tools of the Visual Studio suite.
“If you’re a company who’s trying to test out a new line of business or an add-on service, LightSwitch would be a great way to share data,” said Emmons. “You can have a SilverLight interface with the database out in the [Azure] cloud so your investment is significantly reduced and you can still validate your business model.”
LightSwitch has three different models. It can be run solely as a desktop application, on the desktop and also host the user’s database, or can be run on the Azure cloud. It can be built in either C# or Visual Basic, and aids the user by creating project templates for Windows, Web, or a similar project.
There is always much discussion of ”enterprise-ready” applications, but, Emmons says that not everything has to be enterprise-ready.
“In many cases you shouldn’t start there,” said Emmons. “I think maybe that’s a reason why a lot of these enterprise development efforts fail is because they’re trying to start at the teenage years and they didn’t bother with the infancy.
“That’s where LightSwitch really has some huge value because you’re not going to have to risk a lot of resources like time or money or people to get something up and running to validate a business model,” he said.]]>
“Most people have a lot of data that is under-analyzed,” said Megan Sheehan, senior product manager at Infragistics. “You’ve got different data sets and data streams, and it is not a trivial undertaking to set out to analyze it and present the data in a way that is clear, understandable and actionable.”
The WPF and Silverlight data visualization tools share a common XAML code base, which Sheehan said will make it easier for developers to re-use UI controls between platforms.
Both versions of NetAdvantage Data Visualization contain a few newer features. Pivot Grid, for example, lets developers use online analytical processing (OLAP) in business intelligence applications. Infragistics also added in more than 30 formulas for financial applications, barcode symbologies, financial data charting and tree mapping.
Both data visualization products require Visual Studio 2010 and .NET 4 and start at $595.]]>
Other updates included:
Despite the new features, many development shops still think Azure is too expensive. Barb Darrow and Carl Brooks of SearchCloudComputing.com report that a cloud provider like Amazon Web Services only charges for storage, bandwidth, transactions and new servers.
Azure, on the other hand, charges for storage, storage transactions, bandwidth, CDN traffic, compute hours per single server instance; that’s one application server –not a running operating system that can run many applications, like an AWS machine image (AMI). It charges per GB for SQL Azure, and per transaction for AppFabric, the service bus.
Complaints that Azure too expensive are nothing new, particularly regarding idle hosting and bandwidth. An important thing to keep in mind when comparing Azure to AWS, however, is that when using cloud infrastructure like Amazon’s EC2, you still have to deal with the hardware your applications are running on. One of the potential benefits of a platform like Azure is you don’t need to know what the machine configurations look like. That means you can cut down on system administrators, if you are so inclined. But at the same time, you may end up paying out the difference to Azure in other ways.
You can find more Azure news from the Azure Team Blog itself.]]>
Most of the experts I’ve spoken to on the topic say going with VB or C# is really just a matter of personal preference. But while they were all fairly diplomatic on the matter, everyone seemed only to admit to using VB “in the past” or if clients preferred it. Clearly many of the folks who downplayed VB when C++ was the heavy hitting Microsoft development language still can’t quite shake the bias.
As thinktecture‘s Christian Weyer put it, “I think when VB.NET developers come from the VB6 world, most of them are having a hard time mentally disconnecting from this old world and jumping into the totally different universe of .NET.” Staying with a language that looks the same as VB6 can lead developers to stick to the old ways of tackling problems and miss out on newer concepts like the service-oriented approach.
Weyer recommended switching to C# and not just because it’s is in any major way a functionally superior language. While it takes longer to learn and adopt than VB, he said, the new perspective will help some of the old habits and lead to a “cleaner approach” to .NET development.
So what do you think: Is VB still useful or is it a lame duck that needs to go?]]>
In what ways do new Visual Studio 2010 features simplify building applications for cloud environments?
Jim Nakashima: After enabling the Windows Azure Tools, Visual Studio 2010 makes developing scalable Web applications and services that run on Windows Azure straightforward for any ASP.NET developer.
The Windows Azure development experience in Visual Studio 2010 will be immediately familiar to any developer who has used Visual Studio in the past. It’s possible to quickly get started with project templates that make it easier to create a Windows Azure Cloud Service, Windows Azure configuration, integration with the Windows Azure development simulation and Windows Azure specific build and packaging.
What should developers know about the Azure framework that can help them understand what the tools are doing?
Nakashima: Windows Azure configuration sets up the composition and interaction between the components of the cloud service and the Windows Azure development simulation allows the developer to run their cloud service locally on the development machine in the same way it will run in the cloud.
In other words, the developer can use Visual Studio 2010 to create Windows Azure cloud service projects, add and configure Web and worker roles using a number of different project templates and run and debug on a local development simulation of the cloud and package their application for deployment. When building cloud applications, the Windows Azure Tools for Visual Studio 2010 allows the developer to not have to do any of these activities manually.
What differences in builds with VS2010 and Azure might pose adoption challenges for some ASP.NET or .NET developers?
Nakashima: For the most part, Windows Azure allows a developer to leverage their existing ASP.NET, .NET and Visual Studio skills and assets, if necessary they need to adapt their applications to be stateless applications that scale out across multiple machines.
In order to be stateless, the developer needs to ensure that the application data is stored in a location that is accessible by all of the instances that are running that application. SQL Azure, and Windows Azure storage fit that bill perfectly. The developer will need to determine whether to use SQL Azure, Windows Azure storage or a combination of both and that decision is highly dependent on the type of data the application will use, a cost, performance and ease of migration evaluation is recommended.]]>
“At the end of the day, Microsoft seems to be continuing to focus on the developer community,” said Bishop. “To create the equivalent of an iRise visualization in Visual Studio you have to drop in code.”
With iRise, users can create a live visualization of an application without having to touch any code, said Bishop. These “working previews” include interactive elements and basic functionality that you just can’t get from static screenshots or mock-ups.
Bishop dropped by the office last week to chat about some of the new features in iRise 8, released today. One feature of particular note is a new API that lets the user export the various elements of an application visualization into XML format. With this you can pack user interface, logic and data elements along with screen shots so the project team can use it for building the specification.
Bishop said this XML data can even be transformed into code, but that would have to be done outside of iRise. Unless some third-party ISV hops in with a new value-add component, doing so might involve a bit of custom work. Code generation itself is not something iRise wants to get involved in directly, Bishop said. Its customers have too diverse a variety of platforms and development styles for that to be viable.
Though I am sure developers at companies who use iRise might like to see some strong code generation capabilities, the problems iRise looks to address are ones that come from further upstream. The idea is that making a working preview that looks and feels like the end application will make it easier for IT and business to be on the same page in terms of what to expect from the finished product. Bishop said unclear expectations between business and IT can lead to a lot of rework later on in the application lifecycle.
“The big issues are that these software projects are anywhere from half-a-million to 100-million-dollar projects and typically organizations budget something like 30% for rework,” Bishop said. He said CIOs tend to appreciate getting that rework line item back at the end of development.
Other new features in iRise 8 include:
Pricing for iRise 8 starts at $6,995 per seat for the Professional Edition.]]>
Flick said some of the user interface styles end users are getting accustomed to include the Windows 7 Scenic Ribbon, collapsible tiles that can be organized through drag-and-drop and data cards, for a more compact way of displaying information. NetAdvantage’s WPF controls now let developers build these features into their applications.
NetAdvantage for .NET Volume 1 includes support for .NET 4 and a a few new Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) tools, which include tiles, data cards and multi-touch for Windows 7 gestures. With this release, developers can create Windows Forms applications using the .NET 4 Client Profile in Visual Studio 2010.
Infragistics has put a lot of time into developing controls for WPF, a format which provides more extensive capabilities for building rich, multimedia-enhanced applications than Windows Forms. But WPF is not for every application. For those building user interfaces in Windows Forms, NetAdvantage now has a control for building Microsoft Project-style Gant charts that visually break down project work.
“The big feature was a new Gant chart,” said Flick. “While the market is moving towards WPF and Silverlight there are still a lot of people that still use Windows Forms.”]]>
Versant has been in the object database space since the late 1980s and just last year, it released a version of its flagship Versant Object Database (VOD) for the .NET Framework. This month, the company released VOD 8, which it says has enhanced support for multi-core architectures, better internal memory management and updates to its .NET programming interface.
The major advantage to an object database is speed. The database model itself stores object relationships whereas, in a relational database, relationships are calculated in runtime using JOIN operations. It also helps that object relationships can be changed fairly quickly without adversely impacting the containing system.
Dirk Bartels, a strategic product manager at Versant, said VOD has done best in enterprises with very large infrastructures. These have included telecommunications, energy, transportation and anywhere developers run into significant trouble building a system with a flat data model.
Bartels admitted there was a lot of hype around object databases when they were new, but it took time for larger enterprises to more fully embrace object-oriented programming methodologies.
“When we started developing object databases, nobody was using object-oriented programming,” said Bartels. “What is helping us now is that for the past 10 years, development technologies have really caught up to the database.”]]>
But reconciling a Silverlight front end with a multi-tenant, on-demand back end can add a good deal of work into building a SaaS offering. Users most commonly experience Silverlight as a single-tenant, client-side instance. A good amount of configuration goes into having apps built on this framework play well with scalable cloud environments.
Looking to remove some of that complexity, Apprenda Inc. of Albany, NY has just released a Silverlight API for its SaaS-enabling application server, SaaSGrid.
The company’s application server offers .NET shops and ISVs a way to host on-demand applications in an way that takes much of the hand coding out of scaling and configuring applications in a multi-tenant environment. The new API will let developers use Silverlight as a front end for hosted SaaS applications.
“Typically speaking, if its a SaaS offering, its going to be storing and working with a big back end,” said Sinclair Schuller, CEO, Apprenda. “The difficulty becomes, how do you link that front end tenant to the back end cloud system?”
Schuller, said frameworks like Silverlight and Flash are now helping bring the quality user experience of desktop applications to those hosted on the Web.
Moving forward, Schuller said Apprenda would continue to focus research and development on interoperability with different stacks. He said he would like to one day support Java and is not worried about HTML5 stealing Silverlight’s thunder.]]>
Andrew Flick, product unit manager of all line of business tools at Infragistics, says this focus on user experience comes from a rise in metrics-based UIs. Infragistics builds tools that help .NET shops shape the user experience of their applications.
Metrics-based UIs, he said, are where a specialist will study various aspects of how easily a user can execute his or her will through an application.
“This can be something as simple as text boxes looking the same,” said Flick, “to how many clicks does it take to get from point A to point B.” For instance in the MS Office Ribbon UI, most standard actions take a user only two clicks. By the time Office 2007 came around, Flick said, Microsoft probably realized the program had pretty much all of the tools it needed, but people would have trouble finding them.
Probably the most interesting technology Microsoft has released in recent years, from a UI perspective, is the Microsoft Surface. In the realm of touch computing, single touch has been the standard while a few companies have begun releasing multi-touch products, where the number of fingers on a control surface decides the action performed. The Surface, while not widely deployed just yet, uses multi-user-multi-touch computing.
This general rise in consideration for the user experience is where Infragistics has staked its business. Last month the company announced Quince Pro, a new SaaS product for collaborating user experience patterns across teams. Developers can use Quince Pro to create libraries of documented UI patterns accessed through Silverlight 3-based collaboration tools. The product is available on a trial basis and the company says it will be released at the end of Q1.]]>