Review: AppForge Crossfire

AppForge Crossfire 5.0
Atlanta, Georgia
(678) 686-9000

Crossfire provides an alternative for developing .NET applications for small form-factor devices: PalmOS, PocketPC, and Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones. Why do you need to spend a thousand bucks on this when Visual Studio .NET includes the .NET Compact Framework for free? Well, after banging my head on the limitations of a .NET CF app for the past week or so, I can think of some pretty good reasons.

For starters, there are some unaccountable holes in the CF. For instance, the CF doesn't include a signature control, which seems a rather obvious oversight. Crossfire has one, along with sliders, alarms, date pickers, and other controls that are left out of the Microsoft product. Then, of course, AppForge hits a lot more platforms than the Microsoft product, and it does a good job of crosscompiling your code to use native widgets on every platform you target.

Of course, like the .NET CF, Crossfire supports only a subset of the CLR. So you'll need to evaluate carefully which classes and members are available, and decide whether they'll meet your needs. Crossfire installs the solid SqlAnywhere Ultralite for data access, which gives you a cross-platform database to go along with the cross-platform code.

Crossfire integrates well with Visual Studio .NET; apart from the introduction of one extra menu, developing Crossfire applications feels much like developing any other VB .NET application, albeit one with small forms. I didn't have any trouble banging together code and controls to gen up a quick user interface without reference to the manual. When you're done creating your project, you can test it simply by hitting F5; there's no need to deploy to a separate emulator. Crossfire can also build the install images for you directly from a menu in Visual Studio .NET. Crossfire works by taking the IL and transforming it into AppForge's own byte code, which can than be executed by "Booster" packages (downloadable or included with your setup) on supported platforms. By updating Booster Definition Files, AppForge can even enable your code to run, unchanged, on future platforms.

Overall, Crossfire seems like a good choice for mobile developers who need cross-platform support and a variety of controls out of the box. The price might be a hurdle for some, but the improved productivity should make up for that.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.


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