In today’s fast paced world of software development and racing our competition to "market first," we rely on “prepackaged” time savings (aka. RAD) and more importantly, investing in the time and expertise in third party’ware. Imagine the time it would take for you to build your own grid control and then time to evolve it into something your customer would really enjoy. Investing in third party products not only saves you time but you additionally gain all of the time and feedback involved in the evolution and development of these 3rd party controls. You are essentially adding the team of developers who created these third party products into your business without the additional cost or time!
Developer Express has been in the market of providing third party controls for years. Well known in the VCL/Delphi world for their award winning ingenuity, .NET allowed them to bring the magic of their rich controls "across the border" to those of us using languages such as Visual Basic. Developer Express since branched from the VCL world providing a nice assortment of ActiveX controls, which I personally used in my VB6 applications years ago, and still maintain today. Although their object models are complex due to their inherent advanced functionality, it wasn’t until about a year ago that I came back to Developer Express in need of a web reporting solution for ASP.NET. There were really only two choices for a web report system; Data Dynamics ActiveReports and Developer Express XtraReports. Due to easier deployment and PDF generation capabilities, I went with XtraReports, although a long time user of ActiveReports in ActiveX, I was pleased with XtraReports and continue to use it today for my .NET reporting needs.
Claiming “first out” in the .NET component offerings for .NET, I wasn’t impressed with Developer Express’s .NET controls when first released years ago. A lesson many know, first out isn't always the best. However, something happened in Las Vegas, home of Developer Express, whether an alien visit from area 51 or a lightning strike, but they made a major course correction and “DXperience” was born. WOW! Developer Express has done something right – very very very right!
Developer Express's new DXperience Suite is by far the most fascinating suite of .NET controls you’ll ever come across; I bet my dog on it! No longer do you have to become a third party junkie like myself, instead you will become a Developer Express junkie, more importantly, in their COMPLETE suite of .NET controls you will have everything you need for any need in your application, end-to-end! The better part is it is completely affordable, whether a home based business (Micro ISV), or a large corporation. Renewal for the suite is extremely affordable at only $499/year (with source). You won’t need source code as the controls are done right, updated frequently providing new features with every update to your subscription. But if you want to compile to your own unique names, or make any tweaks to the components, it’s fully available as part of your DXperience subscription. I got the source but I have yet to use it!
Before reviewing the various elements of this subscription, let me list for you what you get in this complete package and at extremely affordable price (ActiveX products not listed, but are included, see web site for more info):
(DXperience Enterprise listed below, other editions available)
ASP.NET WebForms Products:
·ASPxGrid and Editors Library
·CodeRush for Visual Studio .NET (fascinating!!!)
·Refactor! Pro for Visual Studio .NET
Business Application Frameworks:
·eXpress Persistent ObjectsAs of this writing, you get ALL OF THE ABOVE (and ActiveX controls) WITH source (excluding CodeRush, Refactor! Pro, and ActiveX) for $1299.99 and after that only $499.99 per year for renewal of your subscription! As this is a subscription, you will also get the new products added to the suite as it continues to grow. Folks, I can tell you a decent report control itself with an end-user designer (which XtraReports has) will cost you over $1200 by itself! I say again, you get ALL OF THE ABOVE *WITH SOURCE* for only $1299.99. As you can imagine, I have gone through detox, my component junkie days have come to an end, I personally purchased this suite for my company years ago and this is all we use now! And rest assured, nothing will touch what Developer Express has mastered in the latest DXperience suite! Download your free trial now and see what you need to be using from this point forward. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is unmatched so do your research and sell your boss on DXperience today!
Developer Express takes components to new limits but in addition they take your applications to new limits. Developer Express answered the call to help you break out of those overly “blue” applications, everyone emulating the Office 2003 theme. Developer Express has a spectacular theming or "skinning" system supporting many available built-in and customizable skins. They provide about a dozen skins out of the box and provide a skinning utility to allow you to create your own application skins. Say goodbye to Office 2003 blue!
Figure 1. Skinning Controls or use Themes
In a recent release, Developer Express once again leads innovation and took skinning to a new level, now allowing you to use “form skins” as shown in Figure 2 below. Not only can you have a unique “look and feel” as Developer Express calls it for your menus toolbars editors and interface components, but you can now skin your forms with unique caption bars, min/max/close buttons, and border styles. The fascinating thing is that you can drop ONE “DefaultLookAndFeel Controller” on your main form and by changing properties on this one component on this one form, every form and skin supported control in the entire application will automatically update, and you can even do it at runtime! Talk about centralized control and a suite done right! Eye watering good stuff!
Figure 2. Form Skins
The beauty of a team working cohesively, leadership with a vision and strategy, is that we the customers get a suite handed to us that integrates their technologies well within each component (as some say "the right hand IS talking to the left hand"). There is a learning curve to anything new, learn once use anywhere is the motto inside the DXp suite! Their editors library is used throughout so when you want an advanced editor in one component, it’s most likely going to be available in another, i.e. the XtraTreeList, XtraGrid, XtraVerticalGrid, etc. The leadership is involved in their community newsgroups and solicits customers for what we want to see in the future. Developer Express is always looking forward not back, making sure you the developer in the field has the technology to develop supporting future technologies such as those coming with Vista and beyond (i.e. .NET 3.x).
Basic UI controls you’re used to that come with Visual Studio .NET are easy to use but their functionality is limited. I believe the goal of some of the included VS.NET user-interface controls is “just enough to get you by” but not enough to really do the job right. These intrinsic controls offer a very basic (and limited) object model for the novice developer but at the same time you get a novice result. With Developer Express you have endless opportunity, however, at the expense of a little bit of learning required on your part but that's to be expected with anything new. With the help of their rapid response support system, knowledgebase, newsgroups, and thousands of customers, you’ll have sample code before you in no time. It is a great community to be a part of where everyone helps each other as we all have a passion for Developer Express technology! The Developer Express documentation is the best I’ve seen hands down in the .NET industry. All third party .NET documentation these days is inadequate in my opinion as I’ve stated in other articles, however, Developer Express really has gone above and beyond in their documentation! Their web site contains tons of resources, a growing catalog of video tutorials, and plenty of information to help you get answers quick. Let’s not forget that the DXperience suite comes with an information rich “Demo Center” (Figure 3) to show you every aspect of what their magic can do! Runtime designers are phenomenal and they really put effort like no other into a design time experience!
Figure 3. Demo Center
It could take weeks or even months to show off the controls in the Developer Express .NET suite, so let’s just look at a few highlights!
The collage (Figure 4) really shows it all, showing the skinning, editors, nested views, master/detail, card view, advanced banded arrangement, sorting, grouping, filters, etc. An embedded data navigator allows easy navigation using VCR style buttons in addition to buttons (optional) to add, delete, save, cancel changes, etc.
Figure 4. XtraGrid Collage
The XtraGrid is truly one of the most powerful, flexible, and feature rich grids you'll ever come across! Full support for their editors library, banded views allow you to stack columns, auto-complete functionality, and my favorite, a runtime filter system (Figure 5). Developer Express is really focusing on the customer as end-user and runtime customization is one of their key focuses today. There already exists a runtime band and column customization system but the runtime filter system is phenominal!
Figure 5. Runtime Filter System
The XtraBars Suite provides a full menu and toolbar system including the latest addition is one of the best implementations of the Office 2007 Ribbon UI. XtraBars also provides docking support and all of the standard features you would expect in a menu and toolbar system, again supporting their editors taking standard toolbars to a new level of user interface design.
Figure 6. XtraBars Ribbon UI
XtraReports allows rich report design and runtime capability for both Winforms and WebForms. Runtime designer included for Winforms projects allows your end-users to build their own reports for utlimate flexibility. Skinnable report viewers fit right in with your themed applications and multiple built-in export features come as part of the advanced report viewer toolbar! Master/detail reports area easy and XtraReports even allows multiple detail sections. This is one of the most advanced, feature complete, capable and easy to use report systems available, bar none! Give up your Crystal Reports and start using XtraReports, you'll wonder why you didn't make the move years ago!
Figure 7. XtraReports
Data presentation is key once you have done all of your work on collecting data. Developer Express has a great "collection" system and a great "presentation" system to help you visualize the data in your applications. From reports to charts and even integrating charts inside your reports with XtraCharts! You can read more by clicking the section title linked above and view the gorgeous charting abilities from the picture below.
Figure 8. XtraCharts
The XtraPivotGrid is another great presentation system for data analysis. Allowing your users to manipulate and analyze data provides great flexibility to any application. It's one thing just to collect data but to provide a method for a user to do something with the data without requiring a developer to write a new report or chart can go a long way!
Figure 9. XtraPivotGrid
The XtraLayoutControl is another capability Developer Express is giving us developers to allow our end-users to shape the application to fit their needs. Imagine you have a grid control for data entry but your customer prefers a form dialog for data entry instead. It can be tough, especially if offering the option to add columns of data to be collected, to design a form that works for all. Have no fear, XtraLayoutControl is here! With the XtraLayoutControl the end-user can actually invoke a system to change or modify the layout to their needs! They can group controls as they want, rearrange controls and show/hide them as they want! Once again, Developer Express demonstrates innovation with a vision!
Figure 10. XtraLayoutControl
The core of every component in the Developer Express suite are the actual editors to take input. Developer Express has an editor for just about everything, not only do they skin/theme into your applications look and feel, but they also take editor/input controls to a new level in functionality. You really have to see for yourself to understand what this suite has to offer incorporating these unique editor controls.
Figure 11. XtraEditors Library
There are many more controls suites to show off so please visit the Developer Express web site
for more information and view the component collections not covered.
There's one other area I want to discuss before wrapping up this review and that is their productivity tools: CodeRush
and Refactor! Pro
. For those of you that don't know what "Refactor" means it is essentially to "reorganize" and/or rename. Imagine having a variable in your application and many areas in code that use this "global" or "form level" variable but you want to rename it from "myVariable" to "myVariableCollection". With Refactor! Pro you can do this with ease as it will find all instances of your variable and make the changes for you. Refactor! Pro will also extract code elements that may be shared among several methods and "reorganize" the code into one function call instead of having to maintain repeated code throughout your application. CodeRush is beyond magic and you will become addicted, trust me! CodeRush integrates into Visual Studio's code editor (as does Refactor! Pro) and turbocharges your coding capabilities. Mark Miller, one of the chief architects of CodeRush has a passion for coding within minimal keystrokes. For example, you can type "ps" to create a String Property or "mb" to create a method (function) that returns a boolean value. Advanced clipboard functionality, visualization tools, selection tools such as using your key pad + button to widen the selection from a line to a If...Then code block to a method, etc. Code Template allow easy code insertions for common programming tasks and it's completely customizable (extensible). The visualization tools in itself are completely worth it alone so download it, use it, you'll wonder why you never used it before! You will never be able to program without it once you've experienced CodeRush and Refactor! Pro.
As you probably can tell I'm extremely pleased with the DXperience Suite by Developer Express. I developed several applications now using their controls and could not be happier with the result. It is important with today's overwhelming technology not only with what Visual Studio allows us to do but also with Office 2007 and Windows Vista no before the world. Developers are going to be expected to take applications to a new level of user-interface design. Developer Express's affordable suite empowers developers like you and I with all of the weapons in their arsenal to do it right with minimum time and expense.
There is no suite like that of Developer Express's DXperience suite, wrapping up a COMPLETE user-interface with productivity enhancements. Join the Developer Express community today and take your development to a new level!