Microsoft has long wanted to find a replacement for Microsoft Access. The best attempt yet, which is due out in, or before, September is Visual Studio LightSwitch, with which it is said to be as ‘easy as flipping a switch’ to use Silverlight to create simple form-driven business applications.
It is easy to get confused by the various initiatives from Microsoft. No, this isn’t WebMatrix. There is no ‘Razor’, for this isn’t meant for cute little ecommerce sites, but is designed to build simple database-applications of the card-box type. It is more clearly a .NET-based solution to the problem that every business seems to suffer from; the plethora of Access-based, and Excel-based ‘private’ and departmental database-applications. These are a nightmare for any IT department since they are often ‘stealth’ applications built by the business in the teeth of opposition from the IT Department zealots. As they are undocumented, it is scarily easy to bring a whole department into disarray by decommissioning a PC tucked under a desk somewhere. With LightSwitch, it is easy to re-write such applications in a standard, maintainable, way, using a SQL Server database, deployed somewhere reasonably safe such as Azure. Even Sharepoint or Windows Communication Foundation can be used as data sources.
Oracle’s ApEx has taken off remarkably well, and has shaken the perception that, for the business user, Oracle must remain a mystic force accessible only to the priests and acolytes. Microsoft, by comparison had only Access, which was first released in 1992, the year of the Madonna conical bustier. It looks just as dated. Microsoft badly needed an entirely new solution to the same business requirement that led to Access’s and Foxpro’s long-time popularity, but which had the same allure as ApEx.
LightSwitch is sound in its ideas, and comfortingly conventional in its architecture. By giving an easy access to SQL Server databases, and providing a ‘thumb and blanket’ migration path to Access-heads, LightSwitch seems likely to offer a simple way of pulling more Microsoft users into the .NET community. If Microsoft puts its weight behind it, then it will give some glimmer of hope to the many Silverlight developers that Microsoft is capable of seeing through its .NET revolution.