WebUI Studio.NET 2008 R2
Only Your Creativity Will Limit You
By Anand Narayanaswamy
Intersoft Solutions began by releasing two components for .NET programming way back in 2003. Today, their range of products includes more than a dozen components that can be used to develop cutting-edge Windows, web, and Silverlight applications. I happily found there has been tremendous improvement to WebUI Studio.NET compared to the previous version (WebUI Studio.NET 2007 R1; www.aspnetpro.com/productreviews/2007/07/asp200707an_p/asp200707an_p.asp), which I reviewed for aspnetPRO. In addition to offering upgrades, Intersoft has introduced in the current build several additional components, both for ASP.NET and Silverlight applications.
The installation package for WebUI Studio.NET 2008 R2 is available for download from the Intersoft website, but you must complete a simple registration process. At around 270MB, the file was bigger than the 85MB of the 2007 build.
WebUI Studio.NET 2008 R2 (www.intersoftpt.com/WebUIStudio/) not only ships with the same five products found in the previous version (WebGrid.NET Enterprise 6.0, WebCombo.NET 4.0, WebInput.NET 3.0, WebDesktop.NET 2.5, and ISDataSource.NET 1.0), but also includes three new products (WebTreeView.NET 1.0, WebAqua.NET 2.0, and WebScheduler.NET 2.0). An interesting feature of WebAqua.NET 2.0 is that it ships with two unique products, WebCoverFlow.NET 2.0 and WebFishEye.NET 2.0, which can be used to develop cutting-edge image and video applications.
The vendor also has added several new features to the components included with the previous version of the studio bundle (visit www.intersoftpt.com/WebUIStudio/Default.aspx?page=enhancements for details on upgrades). This review will focus on the new components and some of the significant upgrades; refer to my previous review for more in-depth coverage of WebUI Studio.NET.
Decorate Items in Tree Format
If you ve installed Visual Studio, you likely are familiar with the Tristate checkboxes, which allow you to select two or more items from the TreeView list. If you d like to include such a feature in your next application, test drive WebTreeView.NET 1.0, which includes such features as load on demand, sophisticated drag and drop ability, standard keyboard navigation, built-in animation during expanding, and collapsing the node.
Immerse Your Applications with WebAqua.NET 2.0
With the help of WebAqua.NET 2.0 it is now possible to develop applications with visually appealing user interfaces. It ships with two unique products, namely WebCoverFlow.NET 2.0 and WebFishEye.NET 2.0. If you ve used music players you will be familiar with the concept of cover flow (see Figure 1). WebCoverFlow.NET 2.0 enables users to scan through the various images and videos in a unique fashion.
Figure 1: WebCoverFlow.NET 2.0 in action
WebCoverFlow.NET 2.0 has built-in support for Silverlight and ships with tons of new features, like multiple-focus mode for producing a better web experience. Moreover, you also can set the border style for the selected item with the help of the ActiveItemBorder property. WebCoverFlow.NET 2.0 ships with a powerful component designer that can be activated from the Visual Studio environment.
On the other hand, WebFishEye.NET 2.0 is a powerful docking control that allows a developer to arrange icons in several ways (see Figures 2 and 3). With the help of WebFishEye.NET, it is possible to build applications where end users click on an icon and it automatically enlarges based on several preset modes. For instance, icons will be rendered in Grid format when a user hovers over them. I think this control will help developers create user-friendly and clutter-free Web 2.0 .NET applications.
Figure 2: WebFishEye.NET 2.0 before activation
Figure 3: WebFishEye.NET 2.0 after activation
Plan Effectively with WebScheduler.NET 2.0
A key feature of the product is the addition of WebScheduler.NET 2.0, which targets enterprise-level web applications with features such as timeline view. As the name suggests, this control mainly is used to record daily activities. It includes highly extensible editing capabilities not found in other competing products, such as binding many custom fields on to the editing form with the help of OnTheFlyPostBack architecture.
WebScheduler.NET 2.0 also enables end users to view scheduled events grouped by resources, thanks to the TrueSplitView mode powered by the TripleLoad mechanism engine, and enables you to easily export the data either in PDF or iCal format. All these features will not only help a developer build powerful and rich web applications, but also will enable end users to use them with minimal effort.
Populate Data Quickly with WebGrid.NET 6.0
In addition to the previously mentioned components, the studio bundle ships with an updated WebGrid.NET, offering more features than in the previous version I reviewed. A notable feature of the product is that the total value of each group will be updated automatically, as and when a value is edited, thus reducing the valuable round trip between client and server. It also supports certain provisions under section 508, which will be useful for end users with visual disabilities.
An interesting feature of this latest version of WebGrid.NET is the introduction of keyboard shortcuts. For instance, you can make use of Control or Shift key combinations to select items from within the Grid. Intersoft has nicely inherited the feature from the Windows Operating System. WebGrid.NET also supports Buttons with Images and developers need simply to set the column type to ButtonImage to implement this functionality. Moreover, all the components included with the suite support the flagship control, ISDataSource.NET, which likely will help developers build applications without depending on the standard data binding control included with the .NET Framework.
Build Real Desktop-based Applications
WebDesktop.NET introduces the Shadow mode feature, which allows end users to easily move and resize the window in a smooth manner. The WebDialogBox control has been updated to access ContentTemplate from code-behind, which enables developers to keep the dialog box visible in a scrollable page and customize the background color of the shadow. With the help of the updated WebMenu control, developers now can incorporate in to their applications Vista Explorer or Office 2007-style pixel-identical context menus. Also, Intersoft has added new features, such as better mouse state interaction, complex images, and dropdown menu support in the WebButton control.
Even though WebDesktop.NET is optimized for better performance on the client side, I found that it loads slowly and consumes a lot of system resources in Internet Explorer 8 Release Candidate 1. Intersoft is working with the ASP.NET team at Microsoft to resolve this problem. That being said, the product works absolutely fine with Internet Explorer 7, FireFox, Opera, and Safari. It was a smooth experience when I viewed the output of the product using FireFox. From my point of view, it would be better if the server is equipped with 64-bit Windows with large memory so developers can take full advantage of the product.
By the time I finished writing this review, Intersoft had released a preview edition of their upcoming controls for Silverlight. These new controls ship with an updated data presenter control with advanced data grouping and caching capabilities, client- and server-side paging, integrated and hybrid data drilling, and an exclusive Silverlight-based data binding control.
Samples and Documentation
Intersoft has provided live samples for all the components included with the suite; these can be viewed either from the individual product pages or from the Start menu under the corresponding product folder. However, the Visual Studio solution included with the installation package targets .NET Framework 2.0, so I had to convert each project to run it under .NET Framework 3.5 using Visual Studio 2008. I also found that the integrated reference documentation (included with each component inside the product installation folder) doesn t open, and instead displayed an error dialog box. I hope Intersoft will investigate these issues and resolve them in the next release of the product.
Intersoft has provided complete documentation on the web under the developer library channel in Office 2007 format. I hope this will help them update the material easily, as and when required. Intersoft also has integrated the help files in Visual Studio, but when I tried that I was prompted to connect to the web to access the help files. I would prefer to see an offline version of the documentation for the benefit of those users who don t have Internet access all the time. Intersoft provides excellent support; all my queries were answered within a single working day.
I have examined only a snapshot of the various features included with the product; there are many more interesting features that are not covered in this review. I suggest you test drive WebUI Studio.NET 2008 R2 to get a good feel for what it provides.
You now should be in a position to cogently analyze and judge the feasibility of this product for your upcoming application. As you can see, the possibilities are immense, and are limited only by the creativity of the developer and user interface designer. I have no doubt that developers will be able to build applications for producing a pleasant viewing experience for end users with the help of the product, as it contains nearly all the components oriented for the development of .NET applications. Your project will soar to new heights if the components included with WebUI Studio.NET 2008 R2 are employed properly.
Anand Narayanaswamy ([email protected]) is a Microsoft MVP. He works as an independent consultant based in Trivandrum, India.