Developer Product Briefs

Improve the ASP.NET Experience

Developer Express Inc.'s suite of assorted controls for ASP.NET.

Developer Express Inc.'s suite of assorted controls for ASP.NET developers provides both new controls and enhanced replacements for existing controls, along with extensive support for client-side integration.

The ASPxperience Suite from Developer Express includes almost 20 different controls -- there's a lot of functionality here. However, there's no general theme to the suite (Developer Express calls the package its Navigation/Layout/Application Flow/Styling suite), and you won't find the "hot" Web controls like grids or treeviews in this suite. What you will find are both "cool" controls (a popup control, a tab control) and replacements for existing controls (a new FileUpload control, a new SiteMap control).

Given the number of controls, figuring out what they do and how they work is critical. The suite includes links to the DevExpress Web site, where you can learn what the controls do. The Help file includes extensive coverage of the controls' members. There are also overview topics that show how DevExpress expects the controls to be used and an extensive set of demos. Be aware: You need to install the demos on a computer that has a functioning version of IIS with Windows Integrated Authentication enabled.

Figure 1
[Click on image for larger view.]
List Client-Side Events The ASPxperience controls' SmartTag includes a client-side editor that lists the client-side events fired by the control along with a template for each event to support entering JavaScript code.

Assessing new controls is sometimes difficult because it's always hard to predict what developers will expect in, for example, a Tab control. On the other hand, where the suite duplicates existing controls, the additional functionality shows that the suite's developers understand what ASP.NET developers have found frustrating with the default ASP.NET controls. For instance, the ASPxUploadControl fires a FileUploadComplete event where you can put the code to save the uploaded file. This supports a better programming style than the default FileUpload control, which requires you to check its HasFile property on every postback.

Extensive support for client-side processing is also incorporated into the ASPxperience controls. For example, you can use the ASPxUploadControl to trigger a file upload from client-side code. When you trigger an upload from the client, you can also set the event's CallbackData property (in the server's FileUploadComplete event) to return data to the client. This allows you to notify the client if there was a problem on the server when saving the file.

The suite's developers are clearly interested in improving developer productivity. The SmartTag on the ASPxperience controls includes an editor that provides a convenient way to enter JavaScript code (though it doesn't include IntelliSense support). Other SmartTag additions include the ability to update relevant parts of the web.config file, view the control's default CSS, and save the control's current appearance in a skin file.

It's hard for me to answer the critical question: "Is this suite worth its cost?" If you've been frustrated with the limitations in the default ASP.NET controls or want to add some new controls (like tabs) to your toolbox, this suite will make your life easier. In fact, it's possible that any of the suite's controls (including several not covered here) could be worth the total package price for you -- but it's also possible that none of them will, depending on your needs and requirements.

At A Glance
ASPxperience Suite
Developer Express Inc.
Web:
www.devexpress.com
Phone: 702-262-0609
Price: $300 with source code, $250 without
Quick Facts: Suite of controls for ASP.NET 2.0 (and later) incorporating AJAX support
Pros: Useful tools; good support for client-side integration and programmer productivity.
Cons: None, really, but you'll need to decide if the controls in the suite are what you need.

About the Author

Peter Vogel is a system architect and principal in PH&V Information Services. PH&V provides full-stack consulting from UX design through object modeling to database design. Peter tweets about his VSM columns with the hashtag #vogelarticles. His blog posts on user experience design can be found at http://blog.learningtree.com/tag/ui/.

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