First Looks

Studio Enterprise Doc Edition: Create and Document Sophisticated Applications

Studio Enterprise Doc Edition provides a comprehensive suite of tools that enable you to create apps and their documentation.

ComponentOne has released Studio Enterprise Doc Edition, a combination of its Studio Enterprise 2006 v3 component suite and Doc-to-Help 2006 v2 help file builder.

The suites have been available separately for some time, but now you can buy them in a single package at a significant discount. The two products don't show any signs of special integration, apart from the discounted price for packaging the two products together. But cheaper is almost always better, especially when you already use or might want to use both of sets of products contained in these suites. In any case, you can use the two sets of tools to create sophisticated applications with rich UIs and produce great documentation.

Studio is an extensive toolset for building Windows, Web, and mobile applications. You're likely to find every custom control for creating user interfaces you'll ever need, as well as an almost infinite number of ways to customize them to fit the requirements of your applications. Beyond the UI, Studio gives you access to data access tools, a programmable zip file tool, and support for reading and writing PDF and Excel files.

Doc-to-Help is a comprehensive documentation tool that can create almost any kind of online and printed documentation from a single set of source files that you create in Microsoft Word or raw HTML. Doc-to-Help generates cross-platform HTML help, JavaHelp, WinHelp, and .NET-compatible help files automatically.

The combination of the products in a single toolkit is new, but the included versions of Studio and Doc-to-Help have some great new features as well. The big news in Studio is its support for AJAX in the ASP.NET controls, which allows a UI component to update itself without refreshing the entire page. AJAX gives Web applications more of a desktop feel and responsiveness. AJAX has been gaining adherents at a rapid pace in recent months, so the inclusion of these controls in this suite is timely for developers who are on the cutting edge of Web development. You can enable AJAX both in the Studio components as well as almost any other third-party and Microsoft components. Studio also has several new components and SmartDesigners that simplify design-time component configuration. New components include WebSplitter for ASP.NET, which lets you add horizontal and vertical splits, among other features; WebInput for ASP.NET, which provides new Mask, Date, Numeric, Percent and Currency input components for ASP.NET; and SuperToolTip for .NET, which incorporates tooltip and label components that enable you to emulate the tooltip and label features you'll find in Microsoft's upcoming Windows Vista (see Figure 1).

Compared to Studio, the new version of Doc-to-Help is more of an evolutionary upgrade. You can now specify an output folder for a help target, making it easier to integrate the help into a deployment package. In NetHelp targets, you can highlight search results, giving the user the option to turn off the highlighting. The Documenter feature now supports using custom user-defined tags and attributes in XML comments, using an optional XSLT transformation.

A nice feature is the ability to author and configure your Help files in the editor of your choice—whether it's Dreamweaver, FrontPage, Word, or some other editor—without having to rely on outside, proprietary editors to facilitate this. Other features include the ability to insert images in your help projects, the ability to add topic links, jumps, pop-up topics, dynamic links, and cross-references, as well as the ability to add dynamic text effects, such as expanding text and adding drop-down text to your controls. The tool also lets you create context sensitive help for desktop and Web-based applications.

As you'd hope and expect from the manufacturer of Doc-to-Help, the Doc Edition's documentation is outstanding. If you're new to the products, you'll have some work ahead of you to learn their personalities and how to use them effectively, but then you'll be able to do almost anything that modern apps need. The one nit that I pick with Studio's documentation is that there are so many help files, which often means that I have several help files open as I work with the components. But that's a minor issue at worst, especially since help is integrated into VS help, as well.

About the Author

Don Kiely is a senior technology consultant in Fairbanks, Alaska. When he isn't writing software, he's writing about it, speaking about it at conferences, and training developers in it. Reach him at donkiely@computer.org.

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