This Week in Fail

Last week was a week full of fail. But not the type of fail you might think.

Last week at VSLive Redmond, Microsoft demonstrated a new application framework called LightSwitch. From what I read and saw, LightSwitch is a tool for building small line of business applications for Silverlight and WPF. These applications are constructed using a “point and shoot” interface that allows applications to be built and deployed rapidly.

And this is where the fail happened, but not the type of fail you might think.

The community failed in a big way. How did they fail ? The community FAILED by applying the immediate knee jerk anti-Microsoft sentiment that permeates the air today.

In the post LightSwitch: The Return Of The Secretary, Ayende Rahien,  immediately criticized LightSwitch without (though he did disclose in his post) every laying his hands on the tool. He went as far as making suppositions about stuff that he claims will probably not work well. How can he make these assertions w/o real examination of the tool ?

Later I found another post from Donald Belcham: Microsoft.Data.dll and LightSwitch. In this post Donald talks about small line of business applications that eventually need to “grow up” and become “real” software projects. These applications are/were built in tools like Microsoft Access and Excel and served a critical need of business users in companies large and small. Yes these applications get built and they eventually might become part of the lethargic swamp that defines the standard of most IT shops today. He concludes his post with the statement:

“To the professional developers that read this blog (most of you I’m guessing), prepare to move your hatred and loathing from MS Access to LightSwitch.”

His sentiment might come to be a reality but how can such a bold assertion be made without ever using the tool first hand ?

And this is where the community failed. Some leaders of the community failed because they spouted criticisms of a tool they have no first hand experience with. The community at large fails because we continue to put up with un-intellectual kneed jerk reactions from our leaders.

As a community we need to have higher standards. We need to do our homework, criticize and comment from a position of intellectual pursuit and research, and finally we need to leave our bias at the door.


There is no substitute for face-to-face reporting and research.

Thomas Friedman

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  • From the lightswitch website:
    “Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch Beta helps you solve specific business needs by enabling you to quickly create professional-quality business applications, regardless of your development skills.”

    I object to what this tool stands for. To me, the concept of a professional quality application built by people with no development skills is an oxymoron. It simply cannot be professional quality if it was built by people without skills.

    On this basis, I judge the tool without having used it. For a few years now I have been expecting Microsoft to release “Access .NET”, so this announcement is no real surprise. But I reject the message, that tools can magically replace years of careful practice and learning.

  • Jason Meckley

    I believe the communities reaction comes from the following sources.
    1. History. MS is known for creating drag-n-drop software development that can solve any problem. This works for the UI, not the core business functionality.
    2. Shoddy Examples. When a demo is shown shortcuts taken within the demo which promotes bad design practices. When they need help and professional says “you’re doing it wrong” the response is “but I saw MS to this.”
    3. There is not a clear distinction between entry level products and professional level products, or what the limitations of the entry level products really are. They are promoted as you can go from entry level to professional level with very little pain. Or that anyone can be a professional developer with this suite of entry level tools.

  • Thomas Eyde

    I woulds say the community failed more than that. Knee-jerk reactions don’t come from a vacuum. From those I have read, I’d say they come from experience. We see history repeats itself.

    Also, Microsoft is part of the community. Where are the counter arguments? Where are the explanation that Lightswitch and Microsoft.Data is different? How did they decide that Microsoft.Data is the proper name, anyway?

    I have seen people explain why these will fail. I haven’t seen Microsoft, or others, counter the arguments and explain why these will succeed.

  • @paul I agree that there is a lot of marketspeak in that one line. I also agree that non-professional software developers will never build professional grade software. But there is a huge vacuum when it come to getting stuff done for small department level applications. This tool will fill a vacuum that professional application developers leave empty. If there was no need there would be no product.

    @jason. We have no idea what this tool really does. We have no idea what artifacts are kicked out of it. We have no idea if there is a trajectory where the tool create an application that can grow to expand further needs of a department. My point of the post is that I expect more from people I respect. I expect that they will look at the tool first hand instead of just observing a demo and casting their lot.

    @Thomas my point was not to provide an affirmative defense of LightSwitch. And yes the rah-rah fan club is guilty of the exact same thing. Saying just how cool this thing is w/o really getting down and dirty. My point is that people need to do real research and exploration before commenting.

  • Steve


    On the LightSwitch blog announcement, almost all the comments were positive.

    The reality is, the “community” you speak of is a couple of people who retreated to their own blogs to write about it, so it could be read by the same people who also wrote about it.

    The actual .NET Community is ready to embrace these new tools. It’ll be up to the few decenters who know better to fix the mess 3 years down the line when the applications created with these drag and drop tools fail.

    I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here, but the reality is, Microsoft doesn’t really care that much about the ALT.NET-ish community since we represent such a tiny portion of the marketshare.

  • Paul Batum said
    To me, the concept of a professional quality application built by people with no development skills is an oxymoron.

    Is that to say that people WITH dev experience necessarily build professional quality applications? What is the definition of “professional quality”.

    IMO, people with a decent understanding of their business and who can think logically, can build something that is fairly decent. In that context, it’s all about the tooling. That said, can their be a major value add with a professional SW developer? Yes…but not all situations can afford a professional SW developer.

    Another example: I am an extremely good painter (house painting that is). I am not a “professional painter”. Yet…I know what it takes to do the job correctly. I know what the required prep is. That said, could a pro come in and do a better job. Probably. However, I would bet that I am better than some professed professionals. For me, there is no value add in having a pro come out to paint a room or hallway.

    When I started developing, I was not a pro. Being a pro just means you get paid for what you do. It’s not a measure of quality per se.

    IMO, true professional don’t nay say something without giving things a through review. At the same time, true pros don’t go head over heels on something without the necessary review.

  • Steve


    You do make a good point. Also, there are a heck of a lot of .NET devs who are simply drag and drop programmers already. I’m sure there are people here who work in a small shop who can profess that all the devs they know are good, but anyone who works in a large organization knows full well that most .NET developers just aren’t all that good.

    I’ve seen enough code done by “professionals” that would make your eyes bleed.

    This tool wasn’t designed to replace the likes of Ayende, Jeremy Miller, etc., it was designed to replace those on the lower 50 percentile of the skill curve.

    Still, I think it’s a horrible idea, but I know quite a few fellow managers who are going to love it.

  • mendicant

    For small apps, I can see where you’re coming from John. However, my experience seems to lend me to the fact that any USEFUL app, no matter how small always ends up growing into something larger. And once it gets larger it inevitably gets turned over to the dev group.

    So now I have two questions:

    1) How easy will it be for the dev group to load this up and start improving/fixing/adding on to this app using best practices. This is not likely to be Jr’s using this. It’s going to be the technical engineers, the BAs and those types. Hence the immediate comparison to Access.

    2) How many dev shops will even notice if it doesn’t use best practices? Or even care? We might be blowing this out of proportion because most people won’t care. And that’s even more scary than all of this, cause it’ll just breed more.

    Of course, if it comes out and it addresses these concerns, I’ll be eating crow. But history and odds are on the same side as the people complaining.

  • Rob

    Experience and wisdom from similar tools in the past are what guides these decisions. And the chance is 99% that they’ll be right again. I agree with them, but I’d *love* to be wrong, but I just don’t see it happening.

    You don’t have to bite into a shit sandwich to verify that it tastes like shit. Sometimes things are very obvious what they are from how they look.

    And isn’t the Fail meme dead yet? It’s as bad as saying something “sucks” and it being an objective opinion.

  • Here, here, Rod! I had the same feeling, but didn’t put it into words. I, for one, plan to look at LightSwitch and give it the “professional devleoper” look-see. I’m even doing a session on it at Utah Code Camp.

    My take is that it fills a market gap that is missing. FoxPro has not been an “end-user” tool for 10 years. Access is moving towards being a tool for SharePoint. There’s nothing there to fill the missing gap.

    Another way to look at this as professionals is that it will drive us more business. There are thousands of business people who don’t have the budget for the “professional” app. They will turn to LightSwitch and at some point will need something that they can’t do. That’s where we come in. Whether that app can be easily extended or will need to be completely rewritten depends on the customer needs.

    I look at LightSwitch as a business opportunity, not as the dooms day app that many “professional” developers state.

  • Simon Munro

    I was shocked at the conduct of the ‘community leaders’. Their assumption that their way is the only one and denying Microsoft the oppurtunity to develop and sell products was not representative of the broader .net community.
    I can’t help thinking that they should move permanently over to rails if it is that awesome (which it may be) and leave the commercially driven .net world to millions of satisfied developers.
    However, maybe their actions are not sinister, merely and outlet for frustations that they feel. But I am beginning to belive that they are not ‘elite’ developers but ‘organic developers’ – people who have a different style, which may be correct but is not universally applicable.

    I tried to stretch that comparison here…

  • I gotta tell you, when you are coming up to speed in the microsoft eco-system coming from unix, and you get that feeling of being burnt by poorly made oversimplified wizards and code generators, that burnt feeling is hard to forget. Even though I havent tried lightswitch or Microsoft.Data, the familiar elements are all there and they make me cringe.

    Microsoft has a serious reputation of fail that they must overcome in the “beginner” dept.

  • Rod, good observations from someone who is neither shill nor basher for what comes out of Redmond. I think everyone should adopt a “wait and see attitude”. It’s easy to quickly jump to defend one’s craft.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if LS gets used to (among other things) build throw-away prototypes, which CAN be a valuable part of the process in some companies.

    (Having said that, with tools like this, and other tools from MS like PowerPivot, it’s just as important for good public knowledge on what these tools AREN’T for).

  • I’m very amused by all this. I’m involved in several non-MS groups of people using Ruby, Python and PHP. Despite what many of you might call “the ALT.NET way”, there are numerous beginners and experienced devs all learning and becoming productive using good patterns and practices (similar to what ALT.NET does). Tools like LIghtSwitch are not just cause for weeping in the ALT.NET world; they are a cause for laughter in other communities.

    I would ask a different question: Why are other communities able to get beginners (to programming) up to speed in a half-hour (with a real language and text editor) while MS can’t get deliver a simple tool that everyone can agree is good?


  • Steve

    So, after Ayende’s walk through of Light Switch, I guess it’s actually worse than many people feared…so was it still a “fail” since they jumped the gun but were right all along?