Product Reviews

Building Mobile UIs Just Like Windows Forms

The Gizmox Enterprise Mobile development package is a clever -- perhaps brilliant -- hack that lets you create mobile Web-based applications in a Windows Forms-like IDE.

The upcoming Gizmox Enterprise Mobile package extends the company's Visual WebGui forms-based .NET development environment to cross-platform HTML5 applications. I don't usually review preview software because it's not really fair to the software or its developers. However, the Gizmox toolkit provides such a novel approach to creating mobile applications that I couldn't resist. So any issues such as "this doesn't work right" or "this feature is missing" should be ignored -- they may not be a problem when the product is released.

The toolkit is aimed at developers who want to leverage their Windows Forms experience (or existing code) to create mobile applications for smartphones and tablets. A Visual WebGui project begins with a form-like designer and a Form1 in Solution Explorer. You build your form by dragging on form-like controls (such as TextBoxes, Buttons and ToolStrips) and adding .NET code to event handlers, including LostFocus and DoubleClick events. It may not be until you test your application, and Internet Explorer starts up to display a close approximation of your form, that you realize you're in an ASP.NET project. But, as you interact with your form, your .NET code executes, pretty much as you'd expect in a Windows Forms application: click a button and your Button_Click event runs.

What Visual WebGui does is convert your form and the Visual WebGui controls into an HTML page. All the client-side events are sent back to the server in a series of AJAX-like calls, along with the form data, so that your server-side code can execute. Fundamentally, Gizmox has implemented the Model-View-ViewModel pattern with the View in the browser and the ViewModel on the server.


[Click on image for larger view.]
The Visual WebGui integration with Visual Studio is excellent, creating a Windows Forms-like experience for .NET developers.

Limited Extension
There's a lot to like here, but there's a lot to be wary of, also. Fundamentally, if a Visual WebGui control doesn't do what you want, then you're not going to do it. You're not going to be able to extend these pages with your own HTML except by inserting the Gizmox HTMLBox control into the form. You're not going to be able to integrate your own client-side AJAX code. However, if you're buying this tool, it's precisely because you don't want to write your own HTML or JavaScript code.

For all that Gizmox talks about HTML5 development, I didn't see much HTML5, other than picking up the various touch events (though the only touch event supported in the preview is a finger swipe). Communication between the server and the client is handled through Posts and Gets rather than, for instance, WebSockets. The preview doesn't include any HTML5 video or audio controls.

Every client-side event involves a trip to the server, so scalability and performance could present issues for some enterprises.

If the pricing is in line with other Gizmox dev tools (about $700 with a year of technical support -- the cost of a good Grid control) and I wanted to create apps that also ran on Android and iOS devices, I'd probably buy the product.

Gizmox Enterprise Mobile

Gizmox
Web: visualwebgui.com
Price: Unspecified; equivalent products from Gizmox suggest the price will be in the $350 (one month of support) to $1,400 (two years of support) range
Quick Facts: A mobile develop¬ment toolkit that translates Visual WebGui forms into HTML and routes client-side events back to the server for processing
Pros: It works
Cons: Limited ability to take advant¬¬- age of either the Web environment or mobile platforms -- if Visual WebGui doesn't support it, you can't do it



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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