ASP.NET VERSIONS: ALL
Big Savings from Small Vendors
Great ASP.NET Controls on a Budget
By Brad McCabe
Everyone knows the controls that come in the box with Visual Studio are good for building many ASP.NET applications, but often developers want to go above and beyond what they can get in the box. Most developers are familiar with such component vendors as Infragistics, ComponentONE, or DevExpress, but in this article I want to highlight some great smaller vendors that provide excellent products that are either free or close to it. These are products that can enhance your ASP.NET application while saving you time and effort.
The first Web site to check out is Matt Hawley s Excentrics World site at http://www.eworldui.net. Matt has some great controls there, in particular a masked edit textbox. One of the biggest holes in ASP.NET and Web development has always been the lack of a good masked edit control like Windows Forms.
With the Masked Textbox control you can custom define your own masking to have applied or enabled the built-in regular expression validator control. In addition to the Masked Textbox you can download a free Numeric Box control that applies formatting for things such as currency, positive numbers, etc.
Figure 1: Excentrics World s Masked Textbox provides real-time client-side formatting just like a Windows Forms masked text.
Matt also has a lot of other great controls, such as a bread crumb trail, calendar popup, time picker, ordered listbox, and collapsible panels, to name a few. This is definitely a site worth checking out.
Another great site to check out is Andy Smith s MetaBuilders Web Tools at http://www.metabuilders.com. Although this site is loaded with lots of free controls my favorite is the DefaultButtons control. This is a non-visual control that lets you assign any button to fire when a user clicks Enter inside of any input control, such as a textbox. This is more advanced than simply setting focus. You can have multiple textboxes on a page and with this control have them active in various buttons when Enter is pressed in them.
Figure 2: MetaBuilders is loaded with lots of great free controls and tools. The DefaultButtons control is my personal favorite.
Excentrics World and MetaBuilders both provide great tools for free. However, another site worth checking out is http://www.PeterBlum.com. Although Peter charges for his tools, the prices are so reasonable and the quality so high it is a simple choice to purchase from him.
Peter offers a lot of great tools. His Date Package was the aspnetPRO 2004 Readers Choice winner for Best Scheduling/Calendar Tool. And his Professional Validation and More product overcomes many of the limitations and issues with the Microsoft validation. Whidbey improves on the inbox validation controls but Peter s package exceeds even this.
Figure 3: Peter s Date Picker provides at a very attractive price some of the best-looking calendaring functionality I have seen on the market.
I encourage you to check out these three sites and consider adding some of their products to your toolkit. Developers don t need to be limited to the controls that come with Visual Studio, nor do they have to pay hundreds of dollars for third-party controls. There are a lot of great free or low-cost controls out there. Large vendors have advantages in some areas but don t be afraid to look at the smaller guys, too.
Brad McCabe is a consultant with Ajilon Consulting, a leading solutions provider. Brad also has been a systems architect and consultant for several Fortune 500 companies and has been a featured speaker at numerous Microsoft events around the world. His primary interests include ASP.NET, Tablet PC, .NET Compact Framework, and Microsoft s networking technologies. E-mail him at [email protected].