Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Website: www.devexpress.com
Price: $1999.99

Customized user interfaces are rapidly gaining importance in the software and web development arena. However, developing such UIs requires complex programming skills and can be time consuming. Third-party components can help, both by simplifying UI development and enabling you to build more sophisticated UIs. Developer Express's latest release, DXperience Universal v2010 vol 2.5, is packed with many controls that can improve your UI development experience.

Control Sets
DXperience Universal v2010 vol 2.5 consists of suites containing controls for Windows Forms, ASP.NET Ajax, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), and Silverlight-based projects. Here's an overview of the supported controls.

Windows Forms. The WinForms controls include XtraReports, XtraGrid, XtraCharts, XtraBars, XtraScheduler, XtraPivotGrid, XtraRichEdit, XtraVerticalGrid,  and XtraEditors, which are mainly used for building complex Windows-based projects. For instance, by using the using XtraGrid, XtraReports, XtraCharts, and other standard DXperience Universal controls, you could build billing software for a retail application. XtraReports enables you to sort groups by summary and also supports Windows Azure. XtraCharts ships with the ability to create charts with custom week.

ASP.NET/Ajax. DXperience v2010 vol 2.5 also includes a range of controls for ASP.NET Ajax applications, such as ASPxGridView, ASPxScheduler, ASPxPivotGrid, ASPxHtmlEditor and ASPxTreeList. The ASPxperience site contains numerous standard controls for ASP.NET. DXperience v2010 vol 2.5 also ships with a control that you can use to build applications with a rich text editor and ASPxSpellChecker, a spell-checking control. ASPxGridView control allows end users to easily locate and select values from a drop-down grid containing lookup items.

Silverlight and WPF. DXperience v2010 vol 2.5 introduces several new controls—namely DXGrid, DXCharts, and DXRibbon—which are specifically oriented for Silverlight development. The product suite also ships with three new controls for WPF: DXScheduler, DXRichEdit, and DXSpellChecker. The latest release also ships with extensions for MVC, MDI End-User Report Designer, Instant Feedback UI in XtraGrid, eXpressApp Framework, and eXpress Persistent Objects as well as the CodeRush and Refractor Pro productivity tools.

Installing and Using DXperience Universal v2010
I installed DXperience Universal v2010 vol 2.5 smoothly and without any errors. Upon installation, I was presented with a Quick Tour screen which is helpful for quickly learning how to use the various controls. The Quick tour also includes demos of sample applications shipped with the product.

I noticed that the product automatically adds the required controls into the Toolbox as soon as Visual Studio 2010 is launched, after the DXperience Universal v2010 installation is completed. You can either apply a control in your application using Visual Studio 2010 or through manual coding.

I took a tour of several of the controls. ASPxScheduler provides support for scrollable menu and iCalendar features. The ASPxPivotGrid control enables end users to disable specific customization form layouts. ASPxHtmlEditor helps developers to create custom dialogs and also provides content validation and support for full-screen mode. Finally, the ASPxTreeList and ASPxEditors controls provide support for pop-up editable forms and delayed filtering, advanced features that developers will find useful.

The ASP.NET Ajax suite ships with a comprehensive control toolset called ASPxperience, which includes Tree View, File Manager, Menu, Pop-up Menu, Filter, Tab, and Page controls and a Pop-up control that comes with support for on-demand content loading.

Working with the Controls
To create a menu, I double-clicked the ASPxMenu control from the Navigation & Layout Toolbox tab in Visual Studio 2010. The Design area looks like that shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: ASPxMenu control
Figure 1: ASPxMenu control

The next step is to add menu items by selecting the Items option. You then need to add items by selecting Add an Item from the dialog and set the properties for each item from the Properties section, as Figure 2 shows.

Figure 2: Setting menu properties
Figure 2: Setting menu properties



You can also easily modify the menu's skin by selecting the Auto Format option, as shown in Figure 3. DXperience Universal v2010 vol 2.5 ships with several schemes (Figure 3), which you can select according to your requirements. When you select a scheme, a preview will be displayed.

Figure 3: Decorating your menu using themes
Figure 3: Decorating your menu using themes

DXperience Universal v2010 vol 2.5 also ships with a powerful Gauge control and includes several built-in gauges, which you can select from Preset Manager as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Built-in gauges
Figure 4: Built-in gauges

The WPF and Silverlight suites include controls for building applications with Grid, Charts, Ribbon, Bars, Rich Editor, and Navigation Bars, providing the ability to directly print from the application you are developing. The controls also enable developers to employ docking functionality in their applications. All told, the controls provide a feature set that allows developers to build robust functionality in their applications.

The previous version of the product, DXperience Universal v2010 vol. 2, let you hide and show items using the Layout control. Vol .2.5 expands this functionality and gives you access to full runtime customization capabilities, including adding, deleting, renaming, and moving items. These are advanced features that greatly help in building user-friendly .NET applications.

Documentation and Sample Apps
The product ships with sample applications for each control in both C# and Visual Basic versions, which you can access from the Start menu. The vendor provides comprehensive online documentation, which offers step-by-step guidance for each control. You can also download an installation package separately from the secured client area for integrating help into Visual Studio 2010.

Developer Express provides excellent support through its online forums and ticket system, providing the option to escalate and prioritize issues. Additionally, DevExpress product team members frequently publishes video demonstrations, blogs, and interviews for the benefit of developers, especially beginners.

Developer Express provides a fully functional trial version of DXperience Universal v2010 vol 2.5 that should be helpful to especially novice developers who are evaluating the product suite.

Select the Controls That Suit Your Needs
Individual developers will probably not have a sufficient budget to invest in a subscription to DXperience Universal. For self-employed developers, a good choice is to acquire the particular product you need, depending upon your project's requirements. Large development firms can probably more easily justify the investment in DXperience Universal v2010 and are likely equipped to tap into the full potential of the entire suite to build robust .NET applications. Whether you can afford only one or two of the control sets or the entire DXperience Universal v2010 suite, the powerful controls are well worth the investment.

Anand Narayanaswamy ( visualanand@gmail.com) is a Microsoft MVP and ASPInsider, who works as an independent consultant based in Trivandrum, India. He is the author of Community Server Quickly (Packt Publishing) and runs www.learnxpress.com and www.dotnetalbum.com.