First Looks

WebUI Studio.NET 2007: Build Rich Client-Side UIs

A comprehensive suite of user interface and data components for ASP.NET 2.0 using Visual Studio 2005

WebUI Studio.NET 2007 is a comprehensive suite of user interface and data components for ASP.NET 2.0 using Visual Studio 2005. The vendor, Intersoft Solutions, has AJAX-enabled its previous offerings and bundled 17 items for building rich Internet applications.

The centerpiece of the suite is WebGrid.NET Enterprise, which provides not only a grid, but hierarchical drilldowns, data lists, and a treeview (see Figure 2). To get a feel for what the grid can do, I started with the examples that it conveniently installs as Visual Studio Web projects in C# and VB. The default "Elegant" style renders a Northwind-driven grid inside an HTML table that's decorated with subtle gradients, background images, rounded corners, and drop shadows. I had to enter some data to be sure I was viewing a real grid and not an artist's rendering. Right-clicking on the Company Name header brings up a context menu that offers sorting, filtering, grouping, and the ability to remove columns from view. The column-freezing is excellent because you always get a complete view of the adjacent column as you scroll. The starter page, including its explanatory and marketing text, weighs in at a reasonable 91,754 bytes.

Data-driven Web controls—especially grids—bog down when force-fed huge amounts of data. AJAX reduces the number of aggravating page refreshes, but snappy performance can falter when loading, sorting, and updating huge datasets. An effective technique is to load only the first page of data and then fetch more on demand. Intersoft Solutions implements this "just-in-time" loading approach with its included ISDataSource control. As you scroll or page down, the grid brings in more data. The hierarchical grid loads child rows only when the user clicks the expand button. That said, don't expect miracle performance when sorting hundreds of rows on a busy grid. There's a limit to what vendors can accomplish even with the optimized JavaScript routines in WebUI Studio.NET 2007. Here's some advice: When you're moving data entry operations from a thick client to a Web application, part of your job is to manage users' expectations about Web responsiveness. Otherwise, end-users will strangle you while waiting for a browser-screen update.

Another major part of the WebUI Studio.NET suite is WebDesktop.NET, which turns the browser into a workspace complete with panes, applets, toolbars, tabs, and menus that end-users can move, dock, and resize. This is the client-side toolbox for creating your own version of Outlook Web Access, including snazzy features like fade-in notifications when new mail arrives, an attractive rich-text editor, and a file explorer. It's tempting (and feasible) with these tools to replicate the client-side effects used by high-end Web applications such as Live.com. However, some fragility creeps in with the escalating client-side "Wow" factor. For example, on one page that uses several WebDesktop.NET controls, IE 7 on my development machine inexplicably threw the runtime error "document.getElementById(...) is null or not an object" on page load. Unless you're a client-side script jockey, debugging someone else's JavaScript is going to be a challenge.

WebUI Studio.NET 2007 is so feature rich it would be impossible to cover them all in the space for this article. I could write a page about the extensive WebInput controls alone. Imagine a text, currency, or number format, and you'll almost certainly find a highly functional mask for it. The design-time support for creating input types is superb, not to mention a handy wizard for newbies.

The suite's documentation isn't quite as polished as the components themselves. There's plenty of useful, well-organized content, but it needs a once-over by a professional editor whose mother tongue is English to brush up the grammar and overall readability.

WebUI Studio.NET 2007 does its job extremely well. At $1,499 for a realistic developer license (you can install your personal copy on more than one computer) and free runtime distribution, it's also a tremendous value.


WebUI Studio.NET 2007
Intersoft Solutions
Web:
www.intersoftpt.com
Phone: +62 21 5204711
Price: $1,499
Quick Facts: Advanced suite of user interface components for ASP.NET 2.0 and Visual Studio 2005 including grid, input, combo box, menus, treeview, panels, and data source controls.
Pros: Handles large datasets; excellent use of AJAX, client-side scripting and CSS; hundreds of useful examples; attractive default designs; grid exports data to many formats; excellent design-time experience.
Cons: Occasional JavaScript errors; documentation grammar mistakes.

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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