eWEEK labs tested Xamlon Inc.s Xamlon Professional 1.0 and Infragistics Inc.s NetAdvantage 2004 Volume 3, which are designed to make it easier for companies to create graphical interfaces for their projects, thereby freeing developers to focus on the business logic portion of their applications.
Although these products, which plug into Microsoft Corp.s Visual Studio .Net 2003, are aimed at the same goal of speeding the creation of Windows client applications, they follow different tracks in pursuing this end.
We tested release candidate code of NetAdvantage 2004 Volume 3, which will ship this month. NetAdvantage provides developers with an impressive range of interface elements for use in building ASP.Net, Windows Forms and COM (Component Object Model) applications that mimic and in some cases improve on the look, feel and usefulness of Microsofts desktop applications.
NetAdvantage works to make it easier for developers to create projects that resemble todays Windows applications, whereas Xamlon Professional 1.0 enables developers to create the Windows applications of tomorrow.
When Microsofts “Longhorn” ships more than two years from now, it will bring with it an interesting new application interface development model that uses a new markup language from Microsoft called XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language).
The XAML application model offers various benefits, such as allowing the interface of an application to be developed separately from its underlying program logic and in fewer lines of code than under the current models. XAML applications also can boast better use of vector graphics, smoother text and graphics integration, and simpler three-dimensional element handling.
The biggest problem with Microsofts XAML plans is that these applications will initially run only on Longhorn, with support for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 systems to come some time after Longhorns launch. This road map renders XAML irrelevant for the huge number of machines that will likely be running older versions of Windows for years after Longhorn ships.
Xamlon Professional 1.0, which shipped earlier this month, includes a Visual Studio .Net 2003 plug-in, a notepadlike application for developing in XAML and a tool for importing Adobe Systems Inc.s Illustrator scalable vector graphics into XAML projects. Xamlon Professional 1.0 enables developers to begin developing in XAML now.
More important, the products included run-time XAML supports Windows 98 through Windows Server 2003, so companies can run XAML applications without waiting for Longhorn to ship—not to mention undertaking a Longhorn upgrade—in order to get some real use out of the projects theyve created.
In eWEEK Labs tests, NetAdvantage and Xamlon Professional 1.0 impressed us, and we recommend that companies developing applications for Windows give both products a closer look. NetAdvantage and Xamlon Professional 1.0 are available in full-featured, 30-day evaluation versions.
For developers of in-house business applications, Xamlon Professional 1.0 cant match—nor does it set out to match—NetAdvantage in the range of ready-made controls and interface elements that it provides.
Xamlon Professional 1.0 shines most brightly in the educational opportunity that it gives developers looking to get up to speed on Microsofts future application model, although Xamlon also offers companies the benefits of XAML in creating applications that they can begin to use right away.
A single developer license for NetAdvantage 2004 Volume 3 costs $495, or $795 for a one-year subscription that includes free updates that ship during the subscription term. Infragistics ships NetAdvantage updates three times a year.
NetAdvantage is also available in a $995 annual subscription arrangement that includes priority support and source code for all the elements that ship with the product. The client- and server-side elements included in NetAdvantage may be distributed royalty-free.
Xamlon Professional 1.0 is priced at $399 per developer and includes one year of product updates. The XAML run-time engine may be distributed royalty-free.
NetAdvantage impressed us with a wide range of graphical interface elements that we could drop into ASP.Net or Winforms applications. Perhaps more impressive, however, were the facilities included in NetAdvantage for configuring these elements.
Most of the NetAdvantage interface elements are accompanied by designer tools that we could access by right-clicking on the element wed dragged into our form. These element designers organized the large lists of configuration options available for each element into dialogs that we found fairly easy to use.
Even better, all the NetAdvantage Web elements, and the grid element for Winforms applications, included a wizard that walked us through our design options when called on via the right-click context menu.
One annoyance that we discovered upon firing up Visual Studio with NetAdvantage for the first time was that we had to create a Visual Studio toolbox tab for our NetAdvantage elements. Part of the blame appears to belong to Visual Studio. After creating a toolbox tab, we checked off the items we wanted in our tab, but all items present in any tab were checked in the Customize Toolbox dialog, making it confusing to keep track of which items would appear in which tab.
NetAdvantage ships with a nice set of code samples, as well as comprehensive documentation, which we could access from Visual Studio. We downloaded a particularly impressive sample application, called Tracker, that improves on the contact and task handling of Microsofts Outlook and does a good job of showing off how polished an application NetAdvantage can help create.
We used Xamlon Professional 1.0 to build a simple Hello World-type application using a vector graphic described in XAML from one of the sample projects that ship along with the product.
The tools that ship with Xamlon dont include a tool for drawing vector graphics interfaces—at this point, developers must use Illustrator with Xamlons vector graphics import utility to bring the interface images they draw into their XAML projects.
Part of the promise of XAML is that it will allow companies to divide application development tasks between coders and interface designers, with the work of each surfacing in the finished product.
One example of this development model is the Xolitare sample application included with Xamlon. The Xamlon team took a version of solitaire that was written in C# and married it to a deck of cards created in XAML, which could be replaced by another XML-based front end. The result is an application that could be run from the desktop or through a browser, as well as an application that scaled smoothly as we resized its window.
The interface scaling of XAML applications could prove compelling in mobile applications, but that would require XAML run-time engines for mobile platforms, which weve yet to see.
Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at [email protected].
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