Providing a lightweight, easy-to-access application development platform is a challenge. Microsoft had the answer at one time with Visual Basic (VB). However, as VB morphed from VB 6 to VB.NET, the simplicity and ease of development was lost. Visual Studio (VS) LightSwitch is Microsoft’s attempt to create an easy-to-use development environment that lets non-developers create data-driven applications. Whether it succeeds is still up in the air. Here are answers to frequently asked questions about LightSwitch.

1. What sort of projects does LightSwitch create?

LightSwitch lets you create Windows applications (two-tiered or three-tiered) and browser-based Silverlight applications. Two-tiered applications are Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) applications that run on the Windows desktop. Three-tiered applications are WCF applications that connect to IIS on the back end. LightSwitch desktop applications can access local system resources. LightSwitch web applications connect to IIS and can’t access desktop resources.

2. I heard Silverlight was dead. Why does LightSwitch generate Silverlight apps?

Like Mark Twain’s famous quote, the rumors of Silverlight’s death are greatly exaggerated. People talk about Silverlight being replaced by HTML 5, but Silverlight is meant to work with HTML and is designed to do the things that HTML doesn’t do well. Silverlight will continue to be a core development technology for the web, Windows, and Windows Phone.

3. How is LightSwitch different from WebMatrix or Visual Web Developer Express?

All three can be used to develop web applications. However, WebMatrix and Visual Web Developer Express are code-centric tools that help code web applications written in VB or C#.  LightSwitch is an application generator that lets you build working applications with no coding required.

4. Can LightSwitch work with other databases beside SQL Server?

The version of LightSwitch that’s currently in beta connects to SQL Server 2005 and later and to SQL Azure. However, LightSwitch applications at their core are .NET applications, and the released version of LightSwitch should be able to connect to other databases where there’s a .NET data provider.

5. Is it true that LightSwitch doesn’t have a UI designer?

Yes. Microsoft development has taken a misguided (in my opinion) route, thinking templates are an adequate substitute for screen design. LightSwitch doesn’t have a visual screen designer or control toolbox. Instead, when you create a new window, which LightSwitch calls Screens, you select from several predefined templates. It does offer a Customize Screen button that lets you perform basic tasks like renaming and reordering items on the screen.

6. Can you modify applications created by LightSwitch?

Yes. LightSwitch generates standard VS web projects that you can modify. Open the LightSwitch .lsproj project file or .sln solution file in one of the other editions of VS, then you can modify the project.

7. Will VS LightSwitch be free?

Microsoft hasn’t announced the pricing for LightSwitch; however, it’s not likely to be free. That said, as with other members of the VS family, the applications that you create with LightSwitch will be freely distributable and with no runtime charges or licensing required to execute them.

8. Where can I get LightSwitch?

LightSwitch is currently in beta. To find out more about LightSwitch and download the free beta go to the Visual Studio LightSwitch website.