Developer Product Briefs
Put Your Data on a Carousel
Infragistics NetAdvantage for WPF 2007 Vol. 2.
NetAdvantage for WPF 2007 Vol. 2 marks Infragistics Inc.'s entry into the "next-generation user experience" and the "hi-fi UI" based on Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). The Infragistics suite includes a datagrid, several "carousel" controls, a charting component, input controls, and a navigation set that replicates Microsoft's Office 2007 ribbon interface.
The product's Quick Start page and sample applications (cleverly named "xamples" after the XAML markup standard) are an excellent way to see the controls and their code in action. Take a deep breath because the new WPF concepts and properties can overwhelm a newcomer. The xamCarouselPanel control distributes data items such as pictures along a track. XAML markup describes the path and sets how icons appear at various points along its trajectory.
The xamDataGrid is an extremely flexible control that looks great, binds readily to hierarchical data from sources, including a database, XML, or objects. You can group data, change the layout, and add calculated values in unbound fields. Be sure to investigate asynchronous data loading, where the .NET BackgroundWorker class fetches data on a separate thread. The package includes many attractive pre-built styles that you can hardcode or leave as a user-selectable option. The product's samples use XML files and an Access database stored on the local machine. It would be helpful to show the grid's real-world performance when bound to a secure Windows Communication Foundation service over HTTP.
The xamChart component creates bar, bubble, candlestick, donut, and pie charts. It automatically animates static data with fluid builds of each series, complete with gradients. On Infragistics' support forums, I expressed my disappointment about the jaggy rendering of the 3-D charts. In minutes, I got the answer that WPF's 3-D engine only works well on Windows Vista, not Windows XP.
The xamEditors category in NetAdvantage for WPF includes masks for editable fields to accept and validate user input as money, dates and time, numeric values, and text such as postal codes.
The final control, xamRibbon, uses several controls to replicate the Office 2007 UI. These are pixel-perfect knockoffs of a ribbon window, tabs, menus, and buttons. In addition to its built-in themes, xamRibbon includes what the vendor calls ResourceWashing. The ribbon control creates hues and gradients for user interface elements automatically using one base color.
My issues with this suite are quite minor: For some reason, I had to install the NetAdvantage WPF controls to the Visual Studio 2008 Toolbox (and Expression Blend's Asset Library) manually. In addition, Infragistics offers the suite's documentation only on
the Internet, putting those who work offline at a disadvantage. However, the main problems I experienced when using NetAdvantage for WPF were with WPF itself. Before you can master the new controls, you need to learn another set of .NET classes, deal with an increased emphasis on "artsy" UIs, and struggle with Microsoft Expression Blend, a difficult design tool.
Ken Cox is a Canadian .NET programming writer and the author of "ASP.NET 3.5 for Dummies" (For Dummies 2008).
Create hi-fi applications in WPF. NetAdvantage for WPF helps you build "glam apps" that emphasize a glitzy user interface. For example, the xamCarouselPanel control lets users spin data and images in a perspective view as if on a carousel.
At A Glance
NetAdvantage for WPF
Quick Facts: Suite of controls for Windows Presentation Foundation (.NET 3.0 and 3.5) including carousel, datagrid, ribbon, charting, and input editors.
Pros: Attractive designs; highly functional UI; excellent samples; good product support.
Cons: Controls not installed in Visual Studio 2008 Toolbox; samples limited to local data sources; documentation only available online.