Spread for Web Forms
By Michael Riley
Let me cut right to the chase: FarPoint's Spread for Web Forms is a component that every serious .NET developer should have in their toolbox. What looks to be on the surface as an enhanced grid control is actually a component that can practically encapsulate the functionality of an entire Web site. In fact, one of the many well crafted demos that ships with the product exemplifies this idea in the form of an online store displayed almost entirely within its components.
How is this possible? It's because of the boatload of features contained in this gem. Besides the usual column sorting and the expected insert, update, and delete functionality via a standard navigational toolbar, Spread for Web Forms can serve as a presentation-layer conduit to extend the data representation of Excel spreadsheets and databases to the Web. It can display hierarchical data, text tips, and custom error messages via its built-in ability to perform client-side validation, and it can execute more than 200 predefined functions. You even can tailor the way navigation is handled to suit your needs.
Spread for Web Forms also supports an unbound data mode for using your own data and custom formatting that spans from font color to cell type. The product ships with a dozen different predefined visual display styles as templates to get started. Spread for Web Forms makes accessing these capabilities all too easy for VS .NET developers via its built-in wizard and designer screens. And, of course, you can embed standard Web Forms controls such as checkboxes, radio buttons, images, textboxes, hyperlinked text, listboxes, and combo boxes easily into Spread's cells. The bulk of Spread's features can be implemented with a couple of mouse clicks and occasionally a line or two of code. Within minutes of installing the product I had several different data-source presentations being delivered to Apple Safari, Linux Mozilla, and Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers all with the same look, feel, and functionality. The speed of delivery from concept to final page was quick and tremendously satisfying.
The product ships with excellent electronic documentation. Those developers uncomfortable with reading multipage PDFs from a screen will need to print out more 2,000 sheets of paper, with the Assembly Reference making up the bulk of the pages. Probably the most critical documentation to read is the 86-page Developer's Guide and 20-page Tutorial. After reading the documentation, it's obvious that as much quality care went into the product manuals as did the product itself.
If you prefer a more audiovisual learning experience, FarPoint has released several excellent training videos (they also do a great job selling the product) freely available from its Web site (http://www.fpoint.com/support/videos/videos.html). Other .NET component vendors should adopt this compelling practice. In addition to the videos, FarPoint's Web site is also stocked with live examples of Spread in action. Not only are there plenty of online demos of the product, but it's even used for displaying marketing information throughout FarPoint's Web site.
This is a .NET component at its finest.
Mike Riley is a chief scientist with RR Donnelley, one of North America's largest printers. He participates in the company's emerging technology strategies using a wide variety of distributed network technologies, including Delphi 6. Readers may reach him at mailto:[email protected].