Microsoft ASP.NET AJAX Using Visual C#
AppDev Presents Clear and Instructive Content
By Dennis Hayes
AppDev has been in business since 1994. In that time they have gained industry recognition and won many awards for their quality training products. One of their newest releases, Microsoft ASP.NET AJAX Using Visual C#, provides the same quality we ve come to expect. Taught by Scott Cate, this course contains eight modules that cover eight hours of lectures, as well as hands-on labs, sample code, and 250 pages of documentation (identical to the optional printed material). The total running time of the lectures, labs, and other material is more than 24 hours. I reviewed the DVD version, but everything herein applies to the CD version, as well.
The user interface is good, but not great; see Mike Riley s review of Exploring ASP.NET 2.0 Using Visual C# 2005 Beta 2. The interface and its limitations are still the same, with the exception that the current version uses DRM. The user interface, although not great, does the job it is meant to do. For instance, it does not allow the user to set bookmarks, but the eight hours of video are separated into topics of at most a couple of minutes each. So even though you can t set a bookmark, you can get back to within a minute or two of any point on the DVD.
The DRM in this version is a bit heavy handed. During installation you must enter a 27-letter key and connect to the Internet to register the product. When you run the software, you must have the CD in the drive, and the software also uses DRM from Microsoft.
The DRM is also very fragile. The day after I installed the software, Windows update ran, after which the software said I had an invalid license. This probably happens a lot, because when I went to their support Web site, the most popular knowledge base article was one from July 2007 describing how to deal with this error.
However, once I got the product up and running (and disabled the automatic Windows updates), the course really shines. The presentations are well done, the demos are clear and instructive, and the content is complete for beginning to intermediate students. When you watch these videos, you can see why AppDev has won so many awards.
Each of the eight modules has a short pre-test of 6 to 10 questions, so you can judge how well you know the material before you start, and a post-test of 12 to 17 questions to see how well you learned the material. Each module also includes a coursebook that contains information about the material covered, explanations of the source code, instructions for completing the labs, lab files that include the code from the course, sample files from the videos, and a list of Web sites for supplemental information.
Module 4 covers the AJAX Toolkit. This is a toolkit written and maintained by the AJAX community, but supported by Microsoft and hosted at http://www.codeplex.com. It is released under the Microsoft Permissive License, which means you can use, modify, and distribute the code fairly freely. The first lesson provides an introduction to about 30 of the controls, which are constantly being expanded by the community. It shows how to use the toolkit s documentation to find a control s capabilities, uses, and limitations; in other words, it teaches you to fish for new controls so you can eat for life. The second lesson presents more detailed demonstrations of five of the more popular extender controls that extend visual controls in the toolkit. The final lesson covers using ToolkitScriptManager, which inherits all the functionality of ScriptManager, then extends it with functionality like the CombineScripts property and CombineScriptHandlerUrl to improve AJAX performance and make AJAX easier to use. This detailed lesson uses demos to show how all this works behind the scenes. These types of demos convey the kind of detailed information and understanding that really makes these videos stand out from books.
The three lessons in Module 5 cover some of the more complex AJAX controls. The first lesson covers AnimationExtender, which can do many different animations concurrently in series and parallel. The second and third lessons build from scratch a simple question and answer application, including a database. It makes use of the Login control, master pages, CSS, content pages, a SQL database, and the .NET DataSet and TableAdaptor classes. Cate spends quite a bit of time showing how the Login control works, including how it handles roles, connecting it to a SQL Server backend, and how to display different content based on whether or not a user is logged in. Cate then demonstrates how to use drag and drop in Visual Studio to create DataSets and TableAdaptors, and how to use the query builder to customize the datasets. The third lesson continues building the application by showing how to configure and use the DataGrid and DetailsView controls.
This course provides a great overview of AJAX, covering areas of AJAX that I don t see addressed in most books. AppDev s materials are of the highest quality, which is reflected in the price (although they have reduced rates on suites, and frequently have some titles on sale; visit their Web site at http://www.appdev.com to check for current prices and available discounts). But because of its price, I find it difficult to recommend this course to a student or an individual programmer (unless you respond really well to visual learning). But for corporate training programs, this is a good alternative to bringing in a consultant to teach a course. Visit http://www.appdev.com/rs_entry.asp to download free samples of some of their courses and courseware to see if this is the right option for you.
Web Site: http://www.appdev.com
Price: US$995 for 8 CDs or 1 DVD; US$1,091 for 8 CDs or 1 DVD plus printed material.
Dennis Hayes has been writing software since the early 70s. He currently writes software for the Hertzog Adult Cognition Laboratory in the Psychology Department at Georgia Tech. He has been a member of the Mono project for more than six years, and is the open source editor for.NET Developer s Journal, where he has written a monthly column on open source .NET for the last five years. He also speaks on .NET-related topics and does independent contracting, including VB6 to VB.NET and C# conversions, in the Atlanta area after having spent 20 years in Silicon Valley.