By Kathleen Kriz
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.
At Microsoft TechEd 2010 Monday, user interface (UI) development tools provider Infragistics released a set of data visualization controls for Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) that were previously available only for Silverlight. NetAdvantage for WPF Data Visualization and its Silverlight counterpart can be used to build UIs for applications involving business intelligence and other forms of data reporting.
“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.” Continued »
Microsoft announced a number of updates to the Windows Azure cloud platform at TechEd 2010 in New Orleans this week. The biggest of these was support for the .NET 4 runtime and with it, parallel libraries, routing and IntelliTrace.
Other updates included:
- Visual Studio 2010 support and direct service publishing
- SQL Azure database maximum increased from 10GB to 50GB
- Production launch of the Azure Content Delivery Network
- Service monitoring to help developers track and manage the state of their services through the ‘compute’ node in Server Explorer Continued »
By and large, it seems that Visual Basic no longer deserves the bad rap it’s had for many years among more “serious” programmers. After the .NET Framework hit the scene in 2002 a sort of “grand unification” between VB and C# took place that has now rendered the two languages nearly identical, functionally speaking.
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. Continued »
New cloud development tools in Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 (VS 2010) promise .NET developers a fast track to building, debugging and deploying cloud-centric Web applications and services. But how easy will it be for developers who have been using Visual Studio 2008 to build standard applications to use Windows Azure tools in tandem with VS 2010? Jim Nakashima, Microsoft Cloud Computing Tools program manager, answered questions about VS 2010-Azure tools usability in interview with Jan Stafford, SearchWinDevelopment editorial director.
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.
Business analysts have a challenging job in the early stages of an application development cycle. They often need work across business and IT lines to gather requirements and present them in a way that stakeholders can understand – and that developers can implement from. Creating a visualization to show stakeholders can be tricky for business analysts working at a .NET shop, said Mitch Bishop, CMO at visualization tool vendor iRise Inc.
“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.” Continued »
Keeping up with modern user interface (UI) patterns often means giving developers the controls they need to mimic the way Microsoft products feel to users. “Traditionally .NET developers focus on getting things to look feel and behave like users are expecting,” said Infragistics’ Andrew Flick when we talked about new UI features in Infragistics NetAdvantage recently.
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. Continued »
Though not a very mainstream choice, an object database provides developers with an alternative to SQL that thrives in large-scale online transaction processing (OLTP) environments. Mapping data objects to a standard relational database can be a time-consuming endeavor for object-oriented programmers. When the infrastructure is big enough and data access speeds are critical, it can pay off to not have your data stored in rows and columns.
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.”
The age-old dilemma of form versus function is often settled by budget. When it comes to building Web applications, most enterprises will fret about making sure its software is functional and up to spec quite a bit more than it will about the user experience. In the .NET world, Silverlight can add a very rich experience to an application’s front end.
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.
User interface (UI) has changed considerably since .NET hit the scene. When comparing Windows applications to those running on a Macintosh, it was pretty clear that Microsoft development leaned a lot further to the right on the form-function scale. But if you look at products like Windows 7 and “Ribbon” UI that shipped with Office 2007, it is clear that Microsoft is putting quite a bit more thought into user experience than it once did.
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.