WebGrid.NET Enterprise v3.5

Innovative Visual Data Organizer or Just Another ASP.NET Grid Control?



WebGrid.NET Enterprise v3.5

Innovative Visual Data Organizer or Just Another ASP.NET Grid Control?


By Mike Riley


At last count, there were more than 30 freeware, shareware, and commercial DataGrid controls available for ASP.NET - most of which are variants on a common theme based on the original Sheridan Visual Basic 3.0 databound controls from the 16-bit Windows client data application days. A handful of the new .NET controls are polished products, and only a select few are outstanding commercial solutions, worthy of the money their licenses demands. Intersoft's 3.5 release of their WebGrid.NET component is vying for such worthiness, but has a bit more work to do before it can go head to head with its fiercest competitors.


What's Right?

First, as any serious player in the .NET data grid component market knows, features are what differentiate one product from another. Intersoft has added more than 75 new features to this release, some of which are dazzling. The stand-out that generated the most excitement for me was the new row-rendering engine, capable of treating a subset of cells and rows as a single unit. This makes a huge difference in the speed of rendering and delivery while adding support for ColumnSets and PreviewRow features. The addition of these capabilities provides enormous flexibility when designing complex grids that require dynamic filtering and unique data displays for the users.


Figure 1: One of the more advanced WebGrid.NET demos is a GUI emulating a Web-based Inbox.


Some of the other compelling enhancements include what Intersoft calls their WebCommonControl architecture, which allows for other Intersoft components, including their WebCombo.NET control, to seamlessly operate within a WebGrid.NET control. Using these two controls together dramatically improves the end-user experience, and Intersoft includes a trial version of WebCombo.NET with the Enterprise Edition. Intersoft has also improved their "OnTheFly" postback sub-architecture and built-in editing, which allows for seamless population of expanded rows and direct on-page editing, giving a native Windows Forms control feel and response to the display. In fact, there are so many rich client-like features embedded in the product that it has its own end-user online help for the icons used to control the grid.


An abundance of other features are potently packed into the control, including the correct merging/adoption of multiple CSS design styles into a single, properly rendered output style, and expandable preview rows similar to those found in Outlook. In addition to the usual grid manipulation, such as moving, resizing, resorting, grouping, etc., WebGrid.NET provides an AutoColumnWidth mode that autoformats the grid for a much cleaner output, a Localization Manager that customizes and manages multiple language/numerical format outputs, a filter, and UI and accessibility improvements. It can even export data to Excel, HTML, PDF, Plain Text, RTF, TIFF, and XML formats.


Figure 2: Working with the WebGrid.NET control in the VS.NET environment is easy and intuitive.


WebGrid.NET also supports ComponentOne's DataObjects for hooking up business logic to rich UI output. Because ComponentOne has a grid component of their own, it's interesting that Intersoft would employ the use of a major competitor's technology. Nevertheless, it boosts the interoperability with other .NET server-side component vendors. In fact, there are many other features included in the product that surprised me in a positive way. It seems to have almost everything going for it.


Figure 3: Developers can opt to use WebGrid.NET's bundled end-user documentation to interpret the functionality of its 20+ icons.


So What's Wrong?

The most disappointing limitation with the current release is the component's inability to render data for any other client except Internet Explorer 6.0 running on the Microsoft Windows OS. The major benefit of server-based components is their ability to reconstruct their output to support the diverse range of clients it might serve. By restricting the client support so dramatically, Intersoft's solution is essentially a roll-back to a controlled, tightly coupled client-server environment - without the deployment overhead. This restricts the components use to intranet environments that can dictate the browser and version to support.


Figure 4: The WebGrid.NET Designer helps to wire up new highly customized DataGrid layouts in minutes.


Although most companies running Windows environments have already standardized on Internet Explorer 6.0 for compatibility and security reasons, migrating such a client requirements-heavy solution for broader extranet or Internet use isn't an option. Considering that Intersoft's competitors fully support non-Microsoft browsers, this limitation is a major impediment for an otherwise outstanding product.


Figure 5: This alert box appears when attempting to access a WebGrid.NET ASP.NET Web page with a non-IE6 browser.


A few other minor UI annoyances, such as quirky behaviors when manually resizing columns, were present in the version I reviewed, although some of these issues have been rectified in an update released a few weeks after the initial 3.5 version was made public.


Figure 6: The Intersoft online developer library and support areas proactively assure customers that questions, tips, and bugs are addressed and solutions are disseminated as broadly and quickly as possible.



Intersoft's WebGrid.NET v3.5 is a powerful yet restricted DataGrid that is only suited for controlled intranet environments standardized on Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher. The constrained platform support allows for a considerably richer and more Win32 datagrid-like experience, without the ActiveX package deployment headaches or security risks. Intersoft's Enterprise offering also compensates for this limited platform support by selling their product for less than the competition, with an expectation that multi-browser support may be added in the future. Nevertheless, I can only recommend the product to ardent Microsoft platform advocates who can guarantee the control of their client desktop environments.



Web Site: http://www.intersoftpt.com

Price: Single-developer license, US$799




Numerous, powerful DataGrid display options.

Current version only renders in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher.

WebGrid.NET Designer easily facilitates rapid layout of complex data representations.

Minor UI bugs in the initial release, with some fixed in recent service pack updates.

Simple to use, simple to master.




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