Infragistics' New Tools for Picturing Data in Silverlight

Component vendor Infragistics Inc. is releasing Silverlight 2 controls to enable developers to visualize key performance indicators for dashboards, reporting and other data-driven Web applications. The data visualization tooling is the first Silverlight 2 release in the company's NetAdvantage product line. A Silverlight Web client line of business toolset is slated for later this year.

NetAdvantage Silverlight for Data Visualization 2009 Volume 1, released this week, consists of xamWebChart with support for animation and 28 chart types, xamWebMap with panning and mouseover support, xamWebGauge for scorecards and dashboards, xamWebTimeline for historical data and events and xamWebZoombar, which can be plugged into other controls for navigation.

More people are using data visualization tools for business intelligence, asserts Microsoft MVP Tony Lombardo, the lead evangelist for Infragistics. "It is no longer just looking at spreadsheets inside of Excel," he said. "They want to actually see that data, visualize it, see what the data means."

Silverlight 2, which Microsoft released in October, has the reach of the Web and it enables developers to create UIs with rich data visualizations and interactivity, Lombardo said.

"We are looking at these 2-D charts but they have this 3-D aspect to it," he explained. "It feels more like you are working inside of an app, working with the data, and less like you are working with a snapshot or a picture of data that someone took."

The xamWebMap control supports the standard Geographic Information System ESRI Shapefile format (.shp), so developers can download many maps for free and then provide their own data sources. Developers can also customize the properties of the maps in their Silverlight applications by changing the color model, layout, navigation panes and tooltips. For example, you could design a Silverlight app that changes the color of a state or region based on values in a database or grid that indicates inventory levels.

"You can create these interactive interfaces that in the past would have been very difficult or impossible to create," Lombardo said.

For now, many developers will still need to use Expression Blend 2 SP1 -- which supports Silverlight 2 in conjunction with Visual Studio 2008 -- for most projects, unless they want to write XAML code by hand. Visual Studio 2008 and Visual Web Developer 2008 Express tooling for Silverlight will see data binding and Silverlight designer improvements sometime this year, according to Microsoft.

Infragistics is one of many component vendors in the growing Silverlight ecosystem. Open source tooling is also gaining some traction. Microsoft released its own Silverlight Toolkit on CodePlex last October. It offers the source code to a variety of controls, some of which may be built into Silverlight, for free under the Microsoft Public License. The December 2008 update to the toolkit introduced a preview of Microsoft's Charting control.

Early Silverlight 3 bits are expected to be publicly announced, and made available at MIX09 later this month. Silverlight 3, according to some early testers, offers many improvements to developers focused on business apps, including a validation and business logic framework dubbed "Alexandria."

"Silverlight 3 is exciting for us -- there are things that are changing inside of there that will make the components better," Lombardo said.

NetAdvantage for Silverlight Data Visualization 2009 Volume 1 is $595 with standard support. Customers of NetAdvantage for .NET or NetAdvantage for Web Client can download it for free.

Silverlight line of business controls will be part of NetAdvantage for .NET and NetAdvantage for Web Client, expected in the first half of this year. A Silverlight CTP with xamWebGrid, xamWebTree and xamWebOutlookbar controls, among others, is available for testing now.

Infragistics is also developing SharePoint Web Parts for Data Visualization based on Silverlight.

About the Author

Kathleen Richards ([email protected]) is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.