First Looks

CorgentDiagram2.5 for .NET: Automate Diagrams

CorgentDiagram is a high-end package for designing, programming and hosting charts and diagrams in Windows or Web applications.

Corgent Diagram 2.5 for .NET is an advanced package for creating and displaying diagrams in Windows Forms and ASP.NET 2.0 applications. The software, which includes a development kit, installs easily and integrates fully with Visual Studio 2005's development environment.

The tool lets you build diagrams on the fly with code, but most people will start with the Diagram Editor, a standalone application for designing attractive and colorful documents and templates that are saved in the program's native .diagram file format. The editor presents a typical development environment user interface with drag-and-drop support, geometry libraries, a Diagram Explorer, and familiar property pages for each object. The editor is intuitive and fun to use, although I nearly missed the rich set of shape objects because the selector button is inconspicuous at the bottom of the Library panel. I appreciate design and productivity shortcuts in this interface, such as the one-click color gradient support on the toolbar.

Once you finish the basic diagram layout, you can use run-time logic to turn static shapes into dynamic objects. The Web-based ASP.NET trade show booth reservation demo gives a perfect example of this capability. The floor plan first appears in the browser as an image map with clickable regions. The booth size and cost details appear in mouseover pop-ups. However, the diagram elements are attached to a database, allowing you to select a booth, click Reserve, and record your contact info. A reserved booth turns gray and the reservation details appear in the popup. All this is AJAX and client-side script enabled, making the interface nimble and responsive. You even have panning and zooming á la Google Maps.

The tool also includes several innate Windows Forms capabilities. You can create a virtual factory in which end-users position custom objects on a grid; Corgent's Piping Editor demonstrates this as a water flow system using connectable, snap-together pipe parts such as elbows, joins, and tees.

Corgent Diagram exposes its complete document object model (DOM) for scripting. This event-based programming lets you attach logic directly to diagram elements and store all this in the .diagram file. Rather than JavaScript, scripting accepts C# and VB .NET.

The software ships with literally dozens of full Visual Studio sample solutions in both C# and VB, so you get a solid feel for all the capabilities. These impressive demonstration projects are perfect for those who learn best from example code. But newbies usually need a "Hello World" introduction as well. My quest for a simple ASP.NET "Getting Started" tutorial located "How to Use Corgent Diagram for .NET." It turned out to be a discussion of product features, options, and possibilities rather than a step-by-step, hands-on guide for dummies. The lack of support for a beginner was disappointing. Corgent's Web site doesn't host public forums for peer-to-peer support so you might need to pay Corgent Consulting Services to, as Corgent advertises, "get your project off the ground."

Like most users who install software, I blithely agreed to their license terms without legal advice. Afterwards, I couldn't find the license text that I'd accepted anywhere on my computer and ended up running the installer again to read it. The vague redistribution rights section talks of "payment of all fees or royalty arrangements, if any." By e-mail, I got a quote for 25 runtime redistributions for Windows at $6,250. Browser-based delivery is clearly the better deal because the included production server license permits unlimited Web clients for free.

Corgent Diagram offers brilliant technology that admittedly carries an enterprise-market price tag. Although the poor beginner documentation and murky licensing information detract somewhat from a high overall "wow" factor, Corgent can readily fix these oversights by adding articles and details to their support Web site.

Corgent Diagram 2.5 for .NET
Phone: 800-530-8834
Price: $2999 (plus runtime fees for Windows clients)
Quick Facts: High-end package for designing, programming, and hosting charts and diagrams in Windows or Web applications.
Pros: Excellent drag and drop diagram designer; libraries of attractive 2-D and 3-D shapes; nimble performance; dozens of examples with source code; interactive data-driven diagrams on the fly; Visual Studio 2005 integration.
Cons: No raw beginner tutorial; no public support forum; royalty fees; vague license terms on installation.

About the Author

Ken Cox is a Canadian .NET programming writer and the author of "ASP.NET 3.5 for Dummies" (Wiley).

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