Using the right tool for the job - introducing WebMatrix and LightSwitch

This week’s MSDN Flash guest post is from friend and colleague Eric Nelson. Eric’s just moved to a new role inside Microsoft (good luck Eric!) but was more than happy to put pen to paper for the MSDN Flash to share his thoughts on a couple of recent announcements. Cue Eric….

Using the right tool for the job - introducing WebMatrix and LightSwitch

For many years being a .NET developer meant being a Windows Forms developer or being a Web Forms developer. Two technologies for two distinct types of applications - Smart Clients and web applications. Those were simple times, fondly remembered.

Fast forward to 2010. We also now have Windows Presentation Foundation, Silverlight and ASP.NET MVC. We went from two to five significant technology choices for applications in a relatively short time. Yet, I don't come across many developers unhappy with this situation. Interestingly over the last month I have seen brand new applications being built using each of these five technologies. Why can this be true? It turns out the underlying reasons are pretty straightforward:

  • there are many different types of applications that need to be built to meet the needs of business and individuals
  • there are many different types of people doing the building
  • people understand the concept of using "the right tool for the job"

Indeed there are developers using Visual Foxpro, Access, "classic ASP", PHP and Visual Basic 6.0 because of the reasons above.

Another observation I would make is that the .NET Framework we have in 2010 is a lot larger than the one we had in 2002. Perhaps a little unkindly, I sometimes refer to the .NET Framework as a "kitchen sink" Framework - it includes everything including the kitchen sink :-). The advantage is I am confident that I can solve pretty much everything with the .NET Framework. But it does sometimes feel a little overwhelming - too many knobs, too many buttons, too many options, too many choices. Especially if you are a new developer, new to the .NET Framework or indeed a "non-professional" developer who just wants something a little more than HTML.

We realized that there was more that we could do to help. Which is why in the space of only a few weeks we have released two new approaches to building applications - WebMatrix and Visual Studio LightSwitch. Both at their core are about simplifying building applications using the .NET Framework. It is unlikely you would want to become proficient in both as they target different scenarios - but hopefully the following will encourage you to try both. Enjoy.


In early July we released the beta of WebMatrix. WebMatrix is an "all in one" tool that in a single install delivers everything needed to start building dynamic HTML web pages and sites. Although it does support development with PHP, it offers a new .NET Framework based model to create web applications as a group of ASP.NET Web Pages. Server side C# or VB can be "in-lined" with the client side HTML markup. It is targeted at non-professional developers to make it easier to create new web page or sites from scratch, or use Microsoft’s Web Application Gallery to customize popular ASP.NET and PHP open source community applications.

Top level features:

  • Includes a web server to simplify development: IIS Developer Express is a .exe version of IIS7.X which can be installed on Windows XP and above.
  • Includes a simple database which can be xcopy deployed: SQL Server Compact Edition 4.0 is tuned for Web loads.
  • Includes a new programming framework: ASP.NET Web Pages is about "in-lining" code and markup and is independent of Web Forms server controls or the MVC framework.
  • Includes a new templating engine: "Razor" pages have a .cshtml or .vbhtml suffix.
  • Includes the WebMatrix tool, the IDE that brings together all of the above and is independent of Visual Studio.

You can download the beta now.

Visual Studio LightSwitch

At the start of August we announced Visual Studio LightSwitch. LightSwitch is intended to be the simplest way to build business applications for the desktop and cloud. It provides the tools to rapidly develop professional applications from pre-built templates in a simplified development experience.

LightSwitch is targeted at business developers and power users creating custom LOB applications leveraging data from multiple sources that can be easily deployed to the desktop or cloud.  In many respects, LightSwitch harks back to the days of the 4GL. This is not a bad thing. I have had some great experiences building small and large solutions using the better 4GLs of the early 1990's in a fraction of the time it would have taken me in C/C++.

Top level features:

  • Applications are built in Silverlight
  • Pre-built templates
  • Support for SQL Server, Sharepoint and SQL Azure
  • Applications can optionally be hosted in the cloud
  • Handles more plumbing so you can concentrate on the custom business logic.
  • Lots of “drag and drop” but… with full access to the .NET Framework when you need it 

The first public beta of LightSwitch will be available for download by the time you read this.