Microsoft has had a checkered history in the "casual" development tool market. The company hit home runs with the original Access database and the original Visual Basic. But many of its other runners have been left on base.
Microsoft acquired Fox Software in 1992, grew FoxPro into Visual FoxPro, and abandoned it in 2007, to much wailing from FoxPro devotees. Access 2010, widely expected to have built-in Web support, needs SharePoint 2010 for that function, which is a show-stopper for many small and medium-size businesses. PopFly, an interesting Silverlight-based Web application and mashup construction kit aimed primarily at the educational market, was launched in May 2007 and discontinued in August 2009.
[ Check out the InfoWorld Test Center review of Visual Studio 2010. | See Martin Heller's Strategic Developer blog for a scrolling tour of Visual Studio 2010 highlights and ongoing coverage of Microsoft development technologies. | Keep up with app dev issues and trends with InfoWorld's Fatal Exception blog. ]
Visual Studio LightSwitch, scheduled to go into beta on August 23, takes a different tack. Rather than being a completely stand-alone product, it is an easy-to-use, separately purchased front end to the highly sophisticated Visual Studio 2010 IDE. Where Visual Studio 2010 offers a wide assortment of languages and targets (often mind-boggling when the combinations are considered), Visual Studio LightSwitch will offer two languages, VB and C#, and three targets, Windows desktop, Web (Silverlight), and Azure Cloud. Where Visual Studio 2010 offers connectivity to virtually any conceivable database or Office technology and any kind of multilayer or distributed application topology through any kind of protocol, Visual Studio LightSwitch supports SQL Server, SQL Azure, SharePoint, Access, Word, and Excel data and uses an Entity Data Model.