Microsoft Access vs Microsoft LightSwitch – Huh?

I have just installed and created my first form using the Microsoft LightSwitch Beta.  I first heard about this product about 3 years ago at a Conference and actually was called by someone on the project early to get my thoughts on such an application from my perspective as an experienced Access developer…. then nothing until LightSwitch was announced.  In actual fact I didn’t even know MS had gone anywhere with this product until it was displayed at the conference in Holland two weeks ago.  So much for my position as an insider at Microsoft :-).

So now we have a product from the VS Team that is directly designed to compete in the exact “space” as Microsoft Access.  From the “Overview” inside the Beta Docs:

“Welcome to Visual Studio LightSwitch, a new development tool for building business applications. LightSwitch simplifies the development process, letting you concentrate on the business logic and doing much of the remaining work for you. By using LightSwitch, an application can be designed, built, tested, and in your user’s hands quickly.”

Sound familiar?  But very strange….

For years Access has been “dissed” by the VS crowd as a “toy” for use by amateurs who create terrible, risky, insecure and fundamentally irresponsible “solutions” that they wish would sinply go away.  So now they have their own “Access” targeted at exactly the same market of “non-professionals” to create the exact same type of application.

I simply do not get this. 

My initial fear about this product was that it was going to be a replacement for Access which would create uncertainty in the market-place and lead to the end of Microsoft Access by becoming its “Official” replacement.  That would not be good for people like me frankly who would have to learn an entirely new product in order to deliver basically the same kind of solutions – a scary prospect frankly.  But I could accept such a decision by Microsoft as something that probably would make sense for them and their bigger picture.  I likely would have supported it whole-heartedly.

Instead I see Access moving forward with some very exciting new features and capabilities in 2010  (including in the Browser-only environment) and a sweet Client/Server story.  Then Microsoft ships this product as a direct competitor to Access from inside the VS world (??)

My initial impression has nothing to do with the technology of LightSwitch (which I can only assume will do the job eventually) but rather it looks to me like LightSwitch should have been the replacement for Access or the effort put into it might have been better spent on a better and a .NET version of Access. 

To end up with two products that compete with other, with one(Access)  an established product with a following (despite all the efforts to destroy it from the VS community) and the other (LightSwitch) pitched as a direct replacement for Access for non-professionals from within the very VS family that has always hated Access, is just plain bizarre IMHO.

Let’s see how this plays out.  But at this point I don’t think this is going to end well for anyone … so why do this?


About Biggus Dickus

Dick is a consultant in London, ON Canada who specializes in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Office Development.
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10 Responses to Microsoft Access vs Microsoft LightSwitch – Huh?

  1. Giorgio says:

    Hi Dick, hope you were able to strike up some interesting conversation that Thursday evening in London. If you try to go head-to-head with Access, you end-up being another one of a long string of casualties such as Visual Fox Pro.

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      I hope you’re right on this Giorgio. I just find it hard to understand why the fight has to happen again (??).


  2. Kirby L. Wallace says:

    I simply cannot fathom why Microsoft (and that part of the MS developer community that continually is looking for something like “lightswitch”) cannot see Access for what it is: an incredibly powerful Rapid Application Development platform.

    Sure, you can use Access to create some god-awful things, but that is true of C#/.NET/Silverlight/ASP.NET. ‘cept with the latter, you can create some utterly unsupportable nightmares. Access, at least, is consistent. If you know how to use it, you can also support it.

    I have been asking why MS hasn’t pushed Access harder ever since the days of PowerBuilder. MS’s answer to PowerBuilder was never VB – it was Access. And today, MS’s answer to RAD is not LightSwitch, but, again, … ACCESS!

    Pull out the Jet database engine, and replace it with ADP, or Linked SQL Server, and you have all the RAD tools you need.

    There is no simpler platform out there! Create a blank form. Set it’s recordsource property to a linked SQL Table. Drag and drop fields, and Bob’s Your Uncle!

    Granted, you will need to learn how to work with code modules and subforms/subreports to unlock the real power of Access, but that is NOT hard to do. The Access Forms Designer, and the Access Report Designer beat the living daylights out of anything out there.

    And once you eliminate the HORRIBLE Jet database, and replace it with SQL Server, you have all the power you need. I have Access apps that handle a hundred concurrent users with absolutely **NO** problems at all. It rivals my 100+ user Web Applications easily.

    I didn’t know about the web browser environment enhancements to Access. To date, all I knew about were “data pages” which were *not* very useful. I will gladly start looking for these new enhancements.

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      Gee Kirby… what can I say to that?

      I think it’s because we’re all morons and if we weren’t such morons we’d be working for Microsoft and be making all these great decisions about Access wouldn’t we?

      I have given up fighting anymore. Frankly I’m thinking of taking Access out of this blog because I am thinking that maybe the future of Access isn’t so bright and maybe we aren’t doing our clients any favours by suggesting Access solutions anymore.

      You know the old saying “You can’t fight city hall.” ? I think I’m at the point where I am about to accept that fact when it comes to Access.

      Happy New Year anyway 🙂


  3. Luke Chung says:

    Hi Dick,

    Thought you might find my paper on our experience with Microsoft Access and LightSwitch useful:

    It fits an important niche,


    • Biggus Dickus says:

      Thanx for this Luke. Great to hear from you.

      I think you might be right. But it still makes me wonder what their plans are for Client-based Access (?).

      I’m still having trouble seeing a better solution for REAL solutions for REAL Departmental apps than Access Client with a SQL Server backend. Sure everyone wants a Web UI but frankly they also want their app to do what they REALLY need and to be an efficient enough dev environment that the cost will be in a range they can afford/justify.

      I don’t think it’s just the old “I have a hammer so everything looks like a nail.” thing here. I really think that if Microsoft IS serious about keeping Windows alive then why not just keep building solutions using Access Client? And using LightSwitch for the collection of some data through a browser.

      Very frustrating…

      • Luke Chung says:

        Based on the limited work on the client side of Access 2013, I think it’s pretty clear that they think they’re done on the desktop. The direction is to extend desktop applications to the web by simplifying the process of migrating existing Access databases to a SQL Server back end, hosting it, and letting people extend it with some simple forms to expose it across the intranet or Internet. The sense is that if they didn’t do that, the desktop product would be dead. The challenge is whether that will work for the solutions Access solves or whether a platform like LightSwitch is the appropriate direction.

      • Biggus Dickus says:

        But does “Done on the desktop” mean that they can’t add a whole lot more but they’re going to continue to support the technology for several mor eiterations at least or does it mean they’re going to “kill” it because it isn’t cool anymore?

        Just because something is “Done” in an environment doesn’t mean it is “over” just means to me that it’s “mature” in that environment and can’t really do any more than it already is. There’s a BIG difference there… 🙂

        I hope that Microsoft does come out and state that Access is not going away and that although they are not liely to ad much to the Client Version of the product it will still be an active product and one that they want peopke to keep using if they see a value to it. What a strange concept that would be but maybe we’re there now.

        It’s sorta like “the phone company” saying “Although most of our effort is going to be in Cellular phones going forward we are going to provide desktop phones of one ind or another for as long as people ask for them or as long as they aren’t COMPLETELY outdone by the newer wireless technology.”

        I would be glad to show ANYONE how much more powerful the Client version of Accdess is over both the Web version of Access in 2013 and Lightswitch. Believe me, if they could do it all then I’d be a BIG supporter but until then I am not going to stop using Client Access.


  4. Luke Chung says:

    I think it comes down to budgeting and how much the higher ups devote to adding features to the desktop platform. I expect many more desktop versions of Office. Unfortunately, rather than fixing, they take away features that don’t meet security requirements.

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      If they do remove stuff for “security” reasons that’s just the way it is. But I see no reason why they can’t accept the idea of “Product Maturity” on the Client app without then trying to kill it. Unless they make a statement supporting the Client going forward it MIGHT be difficult to convince clients to let us use Access clients for future solutions even though the Web Access and Loghtswitch smply can’t do the job – yet (or ever).

      If they do not pledge support for the Client version it would be irresponsible IMHO. But not a surprise I’m afraid. 😉


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