Developer Product Briefs
Chart Data in Real Time
Xceed Chart for .NET 4.1
Xceed Chart for .NET 4.1 is a WinForms component for creating more than a dozen chart and graph types in 2-D and 3-D formats. The control uses OpenGL to speed up rendering, falling back to GDI+ if the user's graphic card doesn't support OpenGL.
Xceed Chart comes as an 82MB download that includes trial versions of the company's other products. To license the component, open your app's entry point (for example, Sub Main) and set the LicenseKey property to the key code string. Be sure to use the Xceed.Chart namespace, not Xceed.Server as suggested in Xceed's code comments (see Figure).
To get started, I opened the VB.NET version of the Xceed Chart Explorer sample in Visual Studio 2008. The project converted with no errors. Chart Explorer gives you an excellent overview of chart types that range from plain bar and line graphs to intricate 3-D grid and mesh surfaces. The samples are also interactive. You can experiment with options, such as showing or hiding the frame and changing a series' transparency. A pleasant surprise is the smooth resizing of a chart as you adjust its container form's dimensions.
There's a lot more going on in these charts beyond the data. There are fill effects, gradients, text, labels, legends, walls, frames, watermarks, and more. The example project demonstrates the use of lighting, alpha blending, beveling, embossing, anti-aliasing, and jittering. The last two are extremely important for beating back the jagged edges that make chart objects look ragged and, well, cheap. I'm surprised that Xceed doesn't anti-alias more of its samples to increase the eye-candy factor. Perhaps it's because smoothing drags down real-time rendering on a component that the company promotes as "the fastest-rendering chart control on the market."
The ChartToolBar control lets end-users manipulate the chart at runtime. Users can drill down into the data, zoom in and out on the chart, change the appearance, save the chart as a file, and export as a picture in many popular image formats.
The sample project generates charts programmatically, so I created my own project to evaluate the design-time tools. When dropped on a form, the blank ChartControl component doesn't make a great first impression because it lacks a default design. Next, you launch the Chart Wizard to design the chart style, legend, label, borders, and view. I was disappointed that on re-entering, the wizard doesn't read and display the current chart configuration. Instead, you need to go into the Chart Editor to change properties, such as the view angle.
Pointing the chart to data wasn't the best experience. The Databinding Wizard was fine for configuring a datasource, but its Binding Data tab could really use tooltips and previews to guide users through configuring a chart series. The documentation isn't especially helpful on databinding. A practical Getting Started walkthrough would be welcome here.
For the $499.95 price, I would have expected both WinForms and ASP.NET versions of Xceed Chart, especially given that Xceed's Ultimate suite (more than 50 controls and libraries) sells for $799.95. If the source code is important to you, it's available in the Blueprint edition at $999.95.
At A Glance
Xceed Chart for .NET 4.1
Quick Facts: Interactive charting control for Microsoft .NET WinForms using OpenGL and GDI+.
Pros: Charts configurable at runtime by end users; real-time rendering; royalty-free runtime; source code available.
Cons: Design-time chart wizard doesn't re-read existing chart configuration; needs a getting-started walkthrough.