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Guest Post: An Introduction to LightSwitch

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Guest Post: An Introduction to LightSwitch

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TimLeungMediumTim Leung is a software developer based in the UK. For the past 12 years, he has specialised in enterprise application development using products from the Microsoft technology stack. In particular, he possesses deep knowledge of the Microsoft .NET Framework and SQL Server. He's an active member of the U.K. developer community and helps to run the UK VBUG User Group.

Tim is passionate about LightSwitch and rapid application development. He is the co-author of the book 'Pro Visual Studio LightSwitch 2011 Development' (published by Apress).

Last month, Microsoft announced a major new enhancement to the LightSwitch product – the HTML Client. This feature allows you to create user interfaces on top of your LightSwitch applications using HTML5 and JavaScript. And in keeping with the underlying principles of LightSwitch, you can do all of this without having to write a single line of code!

Jason Zander (Corporate Vice President at Microsoft) demonstrated the HTML Client during his recent keynote speech at the TechEd conference. This clearly highlights the importance of this new feature. So if you’re thinking about developing cross browser applications that can run on desktop, tablet or mobile devices, read on!

To start off, I’ll briefly explain what LightSwitch does. It’s a rapid application development tool that allows you to quickly develop data centric applications. The typical applications that you might create can include (but are not limited to) inventory, timesheet, or helpdesk ticketing systems. LightSwitch applications are robust and extensible. It uses standard features from the Microsoft technology stack such as .NET 4, Entity Framework, RIA Services, and LINQ.

When working with LightSwitch, you design the screens and UI elements of your application using a graphical designer. When you deploy your application, LightSwitch generates a Silverlight client that users can run inside a browser or on the desktop. In either case, users need to install the Silverlight runtime on their computer. This disadvantage of this is that it limits the reach of your LightSwitch application.

The new HTML Client addresses this problem by rendering the presentational parts of your application using pure HTML. This means that you can target a much wider range of devices, which don’t need to be Microsoft based. These devices can include tablets and modern smart phones (including iPhone and Android).

It’s completely possible to create a LightSwitch application that includes both Silverlight and HTML clients. This allows you to add the richer functionality into your Silverlight client, and to place the more mobile centric features in the HTML client.

So how exactly do you use the HTML Client? From an existing LightSwitch solution, you’d add a new HTML Client project by using an option in Solution Explorer. After that, you can add and design screens in the same way that you’d do so for a regular (Silverlight) LightSwitch project.

Screen templates allow you to easily create screens to view lists of records, a single record, and to also create and edit records. Screen design is carried out using the same graphical designer that LightSwitch developers are familiar with.

The screens that are generated by the HTML Client are optimised for touch screen devices. LightSwitch uses the jQuery mobile framework and produces a user interface that’s optimised for touch screen devices. Users can very easily navigate your LightSwitch application using the tap of a finger. Therefore, the UI that’s produced isn’t just designed keyboard and mouse users.

The HTML output that LightSwitch produces is extensible. If you want to customise the layout, colours, or font size of your application, you can do so by applying CSS styles. You can also inject your own custom HTML and JavaScript if you want to further enhance your screens. Industry standards are used throughout the HTML Client. The big advantage is that existing web developers can easily reuse their skills and quickly become productive in LightSwitch.

HTML Client will be added as part of Visual Studio 2012. Although the exact release date isn’t known, you can test out the preview version today by visiting the following site.

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=30167

This site allows you to download a Windows 8 VHD, which includes LightSwitch and everything that you need to get started (the VHD is 5.7 GB and might take a while to download).

Without doubt, HTML Client is a major milestone in the evolution of the LightSwitch product. If you want to develop web based mobile applications in the near future, be sure to look out for LightSwitch when Visual Studio 2012 is released!

If you enjoyed this then you may also be interested in Rob Tiffany’s views on LightSwitch which featured in TechEd Europe- Enterprise Mobility Insights by Rob Tiffany.

  • Hey Tim,

    Great article! We look forward to hearing more from you in the near future. The new HTML Client has been keeping us very busy :)

    Cheers!

    Paul

    www.PaulSPatterson.com

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