“Integrate the local/on-premise/cloud islands of data into low-cost, agile modern data mashup applications and can they be ready tomorrow, please!”
Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch was released in 2011 and provides a code-free application building experience designed to appeal to business power users. Since then we have been using it mostly as a RAD prototyping tool.
A characteristic of LightSwitch is its focus on business utility. It presents business-savvy native data types like e-mail and money, including automated validation, input masks and formatting. Although it is a really good platform, it needs extending to reach beyond being a niche product for small developments. Fortunately, it is customizable and extensible and the real power is unleashed when put in the hands of skilled .NET developers.
Most samples and articles concentrate on extending LightSwitch using custom controls, few cover custom data extensions. We will be doing the same in some upcoming posts about data visualisation, Bing maps amd PivotViewer in LightSwitch. Going beyond this and enabling the myriad sources of business data to be consumed by LightSwitch brings new possibilities.
Rather than ‘reinventing the wheel’ we attempted to use other third-party tools but they proved to be inadequate, slow and not designed to fully unlock the potential of LightSwitch. Any commercial custom data adapter needs to be designed to support LightSwitch and other .NET technologies such as MVC3. A LightSwitch data extension that does not natively support data contract metadata, relationships and foreign keys is not really much of a LightSwitch data extension.
XML underpins the integration of all these application layers and services from XAML screen definitions, LightSwitch metadata, configuration settings, SOAP WDSL’s through to data serialisation and storage.
So, we designed and built our own and having to use our own software is a good driver for quality. We are currently running a private beta program for the Xpert360 Lightning Series data adapters for salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and are in the final stages of preparing them for general release.
The adapters support most CRUD operations subject to the security context of the connected user. They include efficient caching to speed your applications along and reduce the Web API calls.
Using the Web API’s requires a salesforce Enterprise Edition subscription or a developerforce account. To access the Dynamics CRM Online services requires Windows Identity Foundation for the security.
We also have versions of the adapters in testing for Windows Azure, other Dynamics CRM versions (security models and on-premise) and proof of concept projects for HTML5, Windows 8 WinRT and Windows Phone. The availability of support for these variations will be subject to customer demand and platform releases, not least our own application development and custom development service projects.
We have already trialled an offline support model that can provide a partial or total mirror of the CRM data. Our initial thoughts are that this will be provided as a part of an ‘Enterprise’ version and custom solutions. This feature has turned out to be an essential aid to internal product testing against a developerforce account. We will be seeking early adopters in this area later in 2012.
We have custom tools to enable rapid building of custom data adapters. This is useful for customers that have installed third-party extensions or modified the CRM schema. You may wish to have a custom adapter that only implements access to a small subset of CRM entities. We may offer lightweight adapters if that is an option that looks viable based upon feedback.
Data update collision detection and resolution features are scheduled for a subsequent release. There are also more features surrounding caching, paging, metadata and custom queries to come as well as non-English versions.
Any feedback or enquiries welcome at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Other useful links:
- Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch Help Website
- LightSwitch Developer Center
- Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online
- Windows Identity Foundation Team Blog