Yesterday, Microsoft announced a new Visual Studio tool: Microsoft LightSwitch. LightSwitch is a tool which allows you to create Line of Business (LoB) applications by using a visual tool, similar to Microsoft Access, although LightSwitch can also produce applications for the web and can pull data from various sources instead of its own build-in database.
Large companies like Microsoft develop many products which will never see the light of day or will die in the first weeks after being released, that's life. A successful product has to appeal to a large enough audience and that audience has to be willing to pay money for the product (if it costs money), otherwise the market for the product is too small, it won't bring in enough money to cover the development costs and things will go rough from there. It doesn't have to be that a product directly generates money; it can be it generates money indirectly, for example because it stimulates its users to purchase additional products which cost more money and are from the same company, e.g. services, support, add-ons. Give a guy a car and he'll come back every day for gas.
What puzzles me with LightSwitch is: what's the target audience? Who is supposed to use this tool instead of another tool? Is this a tool to sell more Sharepoint licenses, more Azure licenses? I have no idea. The main problem is that there's some friction in the image of LightSwitch. Microsoft says LightSwitch is aimed at the tech-savvy non-developer who wants to create a LoB application without needing to hire a truck full of professional developers. In short: a tool for an amateur who wants to 'Do It Him/Herself'. The friction is in the level of knowledge a person apparently has to have: what's a database, what's a table, what's an entity, what's a screen, what's validation etc.. So is it really an amateur tool for amateurs or is it an amateur tool for professionals?
The 'Do It Yourself' remark is familiar: a lot of people try to fix things around the house themselves before they call in the pro's, and sometimes they even succeed wonderfully. These 'do-it-yourself' people buy off-the-shelve cheap powertools to help them with the job and if you close your eyes a bit, the end result looks OK, as if a professional did the work. However, how many of those 'do-it-yourself' people will successfully install a full electrical circuit in the house, or create a new bathroom, with bath, plumbing, fancy mirrors etc.? Not many, they'll call the professionals, who have different tools and different skills and don't create a dangerous train-wreck.
I didn't want to compare LightSwitch to an el-cheapo power-drill, so I have chosen a different metaphore: an electrical guitar. A beginner will buy a beginner's guitar. A professional will buy a professional's guitar. Let's look at two brand examples: Squier and Fender. Squier is a brand from Fender actually and under that brand, Fender sells el-cheapo knock-offs of its expensive equipment, like the telecaster and the stratocaster. A Squier stratocaster costs below 200 euros, a Fender USA made stratocaster costs 1400+ euros. Why's that? They both have 6 strings, pick-ups (the 'elements' below the strings) and produce sound, and look almost the same: what's the difference?
As an amateur rock-guitarist, I can only try to describe the difference, but I hope it will show you what I mean. I played on el-cheapo guitars for some time, maybe 2 years or so, and one day I was offered to play a couple of hours on a real Fender telecaster (which costs over 1300 euros). I still can't believe the difference in sound that guitar made. It played like a dream, the sustain (the time a note continues to sound) was endless, the pickups were able to produce much deeper sound than I had ever heard from my el-cheapo's. Did it make my own compositions at that time sound better (warmth, depth)? Yes absolutely. Did it make my compositions better? No. Did it make me a better guitar player? No.
An amateur guitarist will sound like an amateur guitarist, no matter the equipment. A professional guitarist will sound like a professional, no matter the equipment. Don't make the mistake that by using a more expensive guitar you suddenly are Jeff Kollman of Cosmosquad (one of the best guitarists in the world, see below): the notes you'll play perhaps sound better, but the overall music will still be at the amateur level.
Microsoft LightSwitch is a tool for amateurs to produce stuff amateurs will produce. It's a mistake to think the stuff produced with LightSwitch will be usable by professional developers later on to extend it / maintain it or will appeal to professionals. See LightSwitch as that el-cheapo Squier Telecaster: it looks like a real Fender Telecaster guitar, it produces guitar sound, but a professional will choose for the real deal, for reasons a professional understands. Is that bad or arrogant? No: a professional is a professional and knows his/her field and has skills an amateur doesn't have and therefore doesn't understand. In these videos on Youtube (Part 1 | Part 2) (12 minutes combined) Jeff Kollman / Cosmosquad is interviewed and plays a Fender Telecaster in a custom tuning. It's very advanced stuff, but it shows what a professional can do with a tool for professionals.
In guitar-land things are pretty much settled down, amateurs use amateur material/tools, professionals use professional material/tools. In developer-land, let's see it the same way. The only fear I have is that in a few years time, the world is 'blessed' with applications created by amateurs using a tool meant for amateurs and us professionals have to 'fix the problems'. You can't bend a Squier to become a Fender, it will stay a Squier: amateurs of the world, please do realize that.