The Vista Look Without the Commitment

Telerik and Infragistics ship tools providing WPF-like functionality without the need for WPF.

Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) has arrived, and promises to change the way developers craft user interfaces and functionality.

But what about those who aren't ready to adopt WPF? Component vendors Infragistics Inc. and Telerik Inc. are hoping to woo developers, with tools that provide WPF-like functionality and appearance without requiring them to move to WPF.

Bulgaria-based Telerik recently shipped a version of its radControls for Windows Forms, which allows the creation of Vista-like user interfaces for Windows 2000, XP and Vista, without the need for WPF. Princeton, N.J.-based Infragistics' popular NETAdvantage tools for WinForms and ASP.NET tap into the same niche.

Billy Hollis, a .NET development expert and Microsoft Regional Director, says there's room for such products. "The migration to WPF will take some time. Lots of users don't have the video hardware to run WPF effectively, and the developer tools for WPF are still immature. So I understand why a company might want to offer an interim solution," he says in an e-mail. "WPF is very difficult to learn, and for an immediate need, [Telerik's] product looks like it would be much quicker to get something with a fancy UI up and going."

Telerik radControls
Hollis offers a positive take on radControls, saying it provides "a decent subset of WPF functionality." He says the product can enable a Vista-like experience, with support for animated elements, transformations, and the general look of the new operating system, including shaped controls and transparency.

But Hollis writes that radControls is no substitute for WPF: "For the applications I do, I can't see [radControls] as being so compelling that it would be worth it. It's fundamentally an interim solution."

This editing tool from Infragistics' NetAdvantage 2007 Vol. 1 beta for WinForms features Office 2007-like styling
[click image for larger view]
This editing tool from Infragistics' NetAdvantage 2007 Vol. 1 beta for WinForms features Office 2007-like styling.

The product indeed has some limitations. For example, it can't add Vista-like qualities to regular WinForms controls, says Telerik's Marketing Manager Svetozar Georgiev.

"[WinForms] controls are built on top of a Win32 architecture, so they require separate 'windows' and corresponding resources, communications infrastructure, that only Win32 can supply. Our controls just use the window as a host of the rendering engine," he writes in an e-mail. "The good thing is that we plan on developing substitutes for most Windows Forms controls using our framework."

Georgiev notes that running the radControls product requires far less computing muscle than WPF. Then again, he acknowledges, it's not an equivalent product.

"The rendering engine behind our controls is much, much less complicated. We are able to achieve some similar effects. However, we are by no means providing the same level of graphic richness and interactivity," he says.

Georgiev says Telerik is banking on the belief that the WPF migration will happen slowly, and also that WinForms will remain popular for a while.

"The new platform has some specific strengths and is very useful for creating highly rich, visually appealing apps," he says. "At the same time, WinForms is very good for data entry apps, or apps which display data in more traditional way -- grids, charts, regular forms. This pretty much includes the majority of the apps today. So for most of them, it doesn't make sense to go for WPF."

Infragistics NetAdvantage
Infragistics recently released its suite, NetAdvantage for .NET 2007 Vol. 1, which includes modules for Windows Forms and ASP.NET.

The WinForms product -- featuring support for 64-bit operating systems, and allowing it to run on Vista -- widely echoes the look and feel of Office 2007.

The product includes support for creating an Office 2007 -- like Ribbon interface, which replaces traditional hierarchal menus and toolbars with context-sensitive controls. The Office 2007 look and feel is present in the product's editing and chart-building tools as well. A one-click styling function enables developers to quickly apply a uniform design across an application.

Other features include compliance with U.S. Section 508, the government's requirements that federal electronic and information technology be accessible by people with disabilities; the ability to export images from a style library; an expanded dictionary set; and a beta version of Infragistics' WinGauge toolset, which enables the creation of radial, linear and digital gauges.

New to the ASP.NET module is an application styling framework that includes AppStylist, which runs outside of Visual Studio (VS), and the Application Styling Console, a VS plug-in that can be used to configure and adjust style settings.

The module also contains a new control, the WebResizingExtender, which can be used to resize containers on a Web page, including the Infragistics WebAsyncRefreshPanel (WARP), an AJAX-based panel that can group content and controls together and hide postback.

About the Author

Chris Kanaracus is the news editor for Redmond Developer News.

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