NetAdvantage for .NET 2006 Volume 3
A Must-have Component Suite for Serious .NET Developers
By Mike Riley
Infragistics, the company that practically defined the Microsoft component market, has released their best compilation suite yet: NetAdvantage for .NET 2006 volume 3. Reviewing a new piece of software at times can be joyfully overwhelming, either because of the new innovations exceeding expectations or the sheer volume of features included in the product. Infragistics latest release of their comprehensive .NET component library meets both criteria. Designed for virtually every UI need found in today s most progressive rich-client and AJAX-enabled Web applications, this bundle is literally the kitchen sink of software widgets. Infragistics has been at this game for a long time, and this culmination of components for both the offline and online worlds is proof of their achievements.
Figure 1: The AppStylist utility makes consistent Windows Forms user interface style construction a breeze.
NetAdvantage ships with more than 85 ASP.NET and WinForm components, and many of the ASP.NET libraries are AJAX-enabled. Rather than slapping on rudimentary AJAX UI tricks, these newly enhanced ASP.NET components look and feel like they belong not to mention they behave almost identically like their rich-client counterparts. It s easy to see the shift taking place here. As more of these advanced AJAX controls become as UI-rich as their offline counterparts, it s only a matter of time before rich Web applications overtake thick-client programs as the default. And once these rich Web applications can be locally cached and operated in an off-line mode, it s game over for the thick client. Although the AJAX components in the NetAdvantage bundle aren t quite there yet, they are on target for this vision to become reality.
The NetAdvantage package includes more than 50 separate controls, with several new additions sporting the hot new Office 2007 style toolbar look (such as the Application Menu, Quick Access, Ribbon, Tabs, and PopupGallery controls). Quick Design editors for these controls make tweaking their appearance as simple as click and set.
Figure 2: NetAdvantage includes excellent online documentation, code examples, and live demos.
Other controls, like the popular WinChart, have been improved to allow run-time composite layer modifications for highlighting and dynamic color coding. Splines now smooth out lines for a more polished, graphically appealing chart format. Design time-saving nuances like the Eyedropper for quickly identifying and setting the color of a control or background to the color of another element on the screen or in an image, as well as the ability to selectively display, manage, and import resource styles available to NetAdvantage controls, make this a desirable upgrade for existing Infragistics customers.
Figure 3: The product ships with numerous working examples and demos, like the Portfolio Manager, that showcase the collective power of the suite in action.
The icing on the cake is Infragistics AppStylist for Windows Forms. Based on the company s Presentation Layer Framework, AppStylist provides even visual design-challenged coders like me the ability to create attractive designs that rival the best designs from experienced UI designers. More importantly, the XML-based library file that describes the styles can be dynamically applied at run time (analogous to CSS for Web applications) to customize an application s look and feel based on user requirements. Check out the Flash-based screencast of the AppStylist in action at http://www.infragistics.com/design/AppStyling/AppStyling.html.
In addition to all the ASP.NET components made available in previous NetAdvantage editions, version 3 adds several exciting new AJAX-powered components that make rich Internet application development a breeze.
Figure 4: All controls are multi-browser compliant. This figure illustrates a rich content editor built using the WebHtmlEditor component running inside Firefox 2.0.
The WebAsyncRefreshPanel (WARP) can be used to aggregate controls that need to be updated simultaneously via hidden asynchronous postbacks. The panel can be linked to other WARPs to collectively refresh when triggered to do so, and can also be made invisible to keep the paneled Web page from looking like a checkerboard.
The popular WebGrid control has been further AJAX-enhanced to provide painless data display with seamless automatic refreshes. This is one of the most powerful, yet easiest to use controls and one that will likely be the most frequently employed in the suite. And like any well-designed control, WebGrid provides advanced developers the ability to manipulate nearly every one of its parameters via Infragistics Client Side Object Model (CSOM). Using the WebCalcManager, WebMenu, WebNavBar, and WebGrid controls, cutting edge developers could conceivably recreate the functionality of Microsoft Excel entirely in Web format.
Figure 5: Sophisticated controls like the WebGrid provide Quick Design dialogs to easily modify component properties.
The WebHtmlEditor and WebSpellChecker with multi-language support can be used together to create a compelling Web content editor, an idea that was fully realized by Infragistics engineers in an application available as one of the many demonstrations that accompany the product. Developers looking for such a solution for their own Web content systems can simply lift the code from the demonstration project and have 95% of the work done. That time-saving advantage alone is worth the price of admission.
Billed as The Ultimate Web Based Resource Scheduling Solution , one of the most comprehensive and self-contained AJAX components is WebSchedule. Such a claim smacks of marketing hyperbole; however, it is undeniably an extensible, powerful component that, like its Windows Forms counterpart, offers developers substantial flexibility for displaying scheduling information. Day, week, month, and multi-month views, along with appointments and reminders, make this truly the kitchen sink component of the suite.
Figure 6: The UltraWebChart component can be customized via the easy-to-use Chart Wizard.
In addition to these ASP.NET components, the suite includes numerous others, ranging from combo and group boxes to image buttons, bars, toolbars, menus, and treeviews, thus maintaining a consistent look and feel throughout an Infragistics-assisted UI Web application.
Creating cutting-edge Web user interfaces with these additions is made easier thanks to the excellent online documentation and examples that accompany the product. (You can see live online demonstrations of the ASP.NET components in action at http://samples.infragistics.com/2006.3/.)
More than 85 high-quality components included in the suite.
AppStylist easily creates dynamic UI for Windows Forms applications.
Rich AJAX components support Microsoft s Atlas framework.
I am thoroughly impressed with this outstanding compilation that Infragistics has amassed. Regardless of whether your development needs are WinForm or ASP.NET-based, NetAdvantage covers the majority of your UI needs. From the documentation and working code examples to the clean component wizards and settings dialogs when working with the more feature-packed components within the Visual Studio IDE, NetAdvantage for .NET 2006 volume 3 is a superb showcase of high-quality software engineering. In fact, Microsoft should consider licensing NetAdvantage for inclusion in the next release of Visual Studio, as it would provide the perfect companion to accelerate .NET development for all Visual Studio customers. This is a must-have component suite that any serious .NET developer should have in their toolbox.
Mike Riley is an advanced computing professional specializing in emerging technologies and new development trends. He also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. Readers may contact Mike at mailto:[email protected].
Price: US$995 (or US$1,495 with Priority Support)