Simplicity at Last
By Jonathan Goodyear
I recently had the opportunity to work on a small VB6 application for one of my clients. Before I started, I felt a pang of musty oldness that typically accompanies working with a technology that has been around for a decade or two. After a few hours, though, I began to get a warm and comfortable feeling that I haven t had in a couple of years; the feeling that comes from knowing the intimate details of the environment in which I am working.
Most of you are certainly aware of the breakneck pace at which Microsoft has been releasing new technologies. Even developers who are normally diligent about staying ahead of the curve are finding themselves struggling to just stay at the curve. New technology is exciting, but it would be great if Microsoft took the time to make its tools easier to use before moving on to the next innovation; maybe even as easy as working with VB6 became.
Luckily for us, a couple of enterprising efforts are underway that may just fit the bill. The first is Visual WebGUI, an open source initiative by Gizmox (http://www.visualwebgui.com/). The Visual WebGUI framework enables developers to build fully functional AJAX-enabled line-of-business applications almost as easily as it is to build them using VB6 or Windows Forms .NET. You may be thinking that because ASP.NET applications are event-driven, this isn t big news, right? That s what I thought until I downloaded the framework and tried it out. All I can say is, wow! Visual WebGUI gives you a complete set of Windows GUI controls that you can drag and drop onto a fully functional design surface that even lets you line the controls up using a snap-to-grid feature. Launching new pages or dialogs is as easy as creating an instance of the form and telling it to show. Need to pass in some parameters? Just set some properties of the form you are calling before showing it.
You never have to think about the Request or Response object unless you want to. You can even include Visual WebGUI forms and ASP.NET pages in the same Web project and have them interact with each other. While using Visual WebGUI, I totally forgot that I was even building a Web application, because everything worked just like it does while building a Windows Forms application. I never even saw a line of HTML mark-up, and I had access to almost all of the familiar events that I know and love in VB6 and Windows Forms .NET. The laundry list of features and functionality that is offered by Visual WebGUI is extensive, so I couldn t possibly outline it all here. You have to see it for yourself to truly appreciate its power and flexibility. Of course, the best part is that it s open source, so it s free and you can customize or fix it as you see fit. Please note, though, that while you can customize the UI controls and some colors, Visual WebGUI is not meant for building Web sites with fancy visual effects or media (more on that below). Its core strength is enabling you to quickly create line-of-business Web applications, and for that purpose, it shines.
While getting so worked up about Visual WebGUI, I almost forgot to mention another company that aims to simplify your Web development life. The folks at NETiKA Technologies have created GOA WinForms, a suite of more than 40 free controls that replicate the features and functionality of Windows Forms controls in Silverlight applications (http://www.netikatech.com/). NETiKA is also building a Professional suite of more than 30 additional controls that it will be selling. The reason this is very good news is because, in its current form, Silverlight is not much good for doing anything other than creating media-rich Flash-like applications. You need controls to build any line-of-business application functionality, and that is exactly where Silverlight has been lacking. It would stand to reason that Microsoft is creating their own toolbox of controls. However, given their reluctance to build a framework that even comes close to functioning like Visual WebGUI for ASP.NET, it s fantastic to see a company take the bull by the horns and distribute some basic controls to get everyone developing Silverlight applications and not just concentrating on building more complex controls like grids, charts, and menus. Now, if someone could just build a better and more consistent design surface for WPF/Silverlight, we d be all set.
It should be noted that while both Visual WebGUI and GOA WinForms work well with Internet Explorer and FireFox, they still struggle a bit on Safari but I would expect those issues to be resolved in the short run.
The main point I want to make with this article is that developers have a yin and yang to their psyche. They want to have cool new technologies to make their work interesting, but they also need tools to simplify the process of working with those technologies so they can flat-out get their work done. Working with all new technologies all the time can grind you down. It s good to have tools that give you the feeling of wearing a good pair of boots that you ve owned for years. Reducing the struggles of working with new technologies to a palatable level will keep us all from losing our minds.
Jonathan Goodyear is president of ASPSOFT (http://www.aspsoft.com), an Internet consulting firm based in Orlando, FL. Jonathan is Microsoft Regional Director for Florida, an ASP.NET MVP, a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD), and co-author of ASP.NET 2.0 MVP Hacks (Wrox). Jonathan also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. E-mail him at mailto:[email protected] or through his angryCoder eZine at http://www.angryCoder.com.