Columns

.NET controls set to go

By Samuel L. Matzen

NetAdvantage 2004 Vol. 1
Infragistics Inc.
East Windsor, N.J.
(609) 448-2000
www.infragistics.com
Rating: 5 out of 5

NetAdvantage 2004 Volume 1 is the latest release from Infragistics, a publisher of presentation layer development tools for Microsoft Windows Forms, ASP.NET, Tablet PC, COM and Java platforms.

The company is billing the new version of its flagship product as "the ultimate presentation layer toolset for building commercial-class user interfaces" with the look and feel of the latest Microsoft-style applications. That phrase may be a bit of marketing hyperbole, but in my experience with the toolset -- which I use daily -- it's also pretty accurate.

My more robust projects typically deploy using a combination of WinForms and WebForms (ASP.NET). In the late 1990s, I used Sheridan Suites before Sheridan Software Systems merged with ProtoView Development Corp. to form Infragistics. I then used the Infragistics toolsets in Visual Studio 6 and the COM environment.

When it came time to choose a presentation layer toolset for Visual Studio .NET, NetAdvantage's consistent object model across Windows Forms, ASP.NET and COM elements, along with the ability to standardize on one presentation layer toolset for all of my .NET development and COM needs, made it an easy choice. Sometime last year NetAdvantage became NetAdvantage 2003 Volume 1.

There were three major releases of the NetAdvantage last year. Each new volume included all hot fixes and other improvements, major new releases for selected elements and the introduction of new elements. NetAdvantage 2004 Volume 1 is the most recent release, and it includes an ASP.NET Data Input that comprises WebMaskedEdit, new StepLine chart types for Windows Forms and ASP.NET, ASP.NET Presentation Layer Framework enhancements and Section 508 compliance for select elements. [Section 508 is a law requiring Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.]

New features for Windows Forms include WinGrid, WinToolBars, WinExplorerBar, WinSchedule, WinChart and WinEditors. Those for ASP.NET include ASP.NET Presentation Layer Framework, WebDataInput, WebGrid, WebMenu, WebChart and WebTree. Section 508-compliant elements include WebMenu, WebTree, WebGrid, WinGrid, WinToolbars and WinEditors. NetAdvantage 2004 provides a consistent appearance implementation across all elements.

It comes with robust designers, some with style presets. Infragistics has dramatically improved its support with this release by upgrading its help and adding extensive how-tos, tutorials and knowledge-base articles to devcenter.infragistics.com. The Infragistics DevCenter Web site presents Infragistics developers, and those interested in learning more about Infragistics toolsets, with online development assistance and communications; it also includes both Windows Forms and ASP.NET reference applications.

Along with good support from the company (I use Infragistics support a couple of times a week), users of the NetAdvantage toolset will find a very active user community. The Infragistics peer-to-peer news groups (news.infragistics.com) provide answers to most common questions about the product. Many questions are answered within 10 to 30 minutes by other developers.

The .NET environment is quite dynamic, and new elements and features are added with each new volume; we opted for the Subscription and Priority Support Edition, which includes priority phone support and rapid response online support. Infragistics also offers a subscription service that provides automatic notification of downloadable product links and rights to all major upgrades, including full version releases and any new products added to the toolset, as well as minor updates, including enhancements and maintenance releases for a year. Subscribers receive all source code for Windows Forms and ASP.NET designers and elements.

In addition, the toolset's ASP.NET elements deliver thin client deployment with rich client interfaces. On the downside, it can take some time to familiarize yourself with the tools' extensive configuration property set. I was disappointed that there is no HTML editor included in the ASP.NET tools. And the object model for these tools is not the same as the Microsoft object model.

The learning curve can be a bit steep. I am deploying the new features and elements of the NetAdvantage 2004 Volume 1 tools into both existing and new apps. The new WinGrid and WebGrid features significantly reduce developer effort for adding new rows and editing user input. The enhanced Windows Forms tools allow developers to quickly create apps with the look and feel of MS Office 2003 and MS Visual Studio. These interfaces are familiar to many users, thus reducing training costs and quickly getting new applications productive.

Dan Guida, Infragistics' CEO, was right when he said the NetAdvantage toolset "allows [developers] to concentrate on the core business logic of their projects." Developers have a tendency to interject "neat new features" into user interfaces that can confuse users. The standardized presentation layer and consistent user interface allow me to quickly create my user interfaces, which allows me more time to work with the business logic and data interface. Each new release of the WinGrid and WebGrid elements provides additional features and improvements.

For example, new in this release of WinGrid is the long awaited "Add Row" functionality that not only allows the WinGrid to natively support new row behavior similar to that of MS Access, but also allows the automatic new row to display as the top row of the grid. This release of WebGrid also includes the Data Input Editors for Text, MaskEdit, NumericEdit, CurrencyEdit and DateTimeEdit. These changes provide a better user experience and significantly reduce developer effort.

In addition, NetAdvantage 2004 Volume 1 presents the first elements to provide Section 508 compliance. The requests for Section 508-compliant applications are increasing steadily. There are an estimated 800,000 visually impaired persons currently using the Web. It is projected that there are 6.5 million Americans age 55 or older that experience severe vision loss; by 2030, this number will double. Like many other issues facing the software development community, we can ignore it only so long. Still, between the Infragistics elements in the toolset, a few standard Microsoft controls and an ASP.NET HTML editor control, I have not needed anything else in any of my presentation layer implementations.

I would have to rank NetAdvantage 2004 as a solid toolset for building presentation layer, Windows Forms, ASP.NET, Tablet PC and COM applications. Bottom Line: This is a best-of-breed suite of proven presentation layer .NET, ASP.NET and COM controls from a solid company where developer input strongly influences new product development.

Pricing and Availability: Pricing for the product starts at $495. NetAdvantage 2004 Vol. 1 with Subscription is priced at $695, while NetAdvantage 2004 Vol. 1 with Subscription and Priority Support is $995.

Pros:

  • Has consistent appearance and property implementation across controls.
  • Robust designers, some with style presets.
  • Good online documentation and knowledgeable support department.

Cons:

  • It can take a little time to become familiar with the vast configuration property set of the controls.
  • There is no HTML editor included in the ASP.NET controls.
  • Object model for these controls is not the same as the Microsoft object model.

 

Samuel L. Matzen is an independent software consultant and author from Wichita, Kan., with more than 35 years of experience in a variety of industries. He can be reached at smatzen@slm.com.

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