Monday, July 21, 2008

Software Review - NetAdvantage For .NET Suite- NetAdvantage AppStylist 2008 Volume 1 From Infragistics

Written by T. Michael Testi

 

This is the third part of a three-part series that will cover what is contained in the NetAdvantage For .NET Suite. The three products are NetAdvantage for ASP.NET, NetAdvantage for Windows Forms, and NetAdvantage AppStylist. You can go online to explore more about the products in this suite. The goal of this series it to define what each product does and what it can do for you.

Infragistics over the years has positioned itself as a leader in the development of the presentation layer technologies. By creating high quality, reusable presentation layer tools for ASP.NET, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Tablet PC, and Java Environments, they are able to provide their customers with the ability to accelerate the development process by reducing development time.

NetAdvantage AppStylist

The NetAdvantage For .NET Suite is compatible with Visual Studio 2008, and Visual Studio 2005. It works with Microsoft Windows XP and Vista. Infragistics products are subscription-based which gives you updates and upgrades for the period of the license, usually one year. So when you see the terminology "2008 Volume 1", this means it is the first release for this release of the product for that year. The license is also developer-based which means that the developer can install it on more than one machine, but they are the only one who has the right to use the license.

So what is NetAdvantage AppStylist? It is a revolutionary product that lets application developers and graphic artists peacefully coexist within a company. It allows each to do their job without stepping on or getting in the way of the other. It allows one to determine and develop the functionality while the other designs the look and feel and branding.

NetAdvantage AppStylist is really two products in one. One is for ASP.NET and the other is for Windows Forms. It is a standalone application that works outside of the Microsoft Visual Studio IDE and therefore allows visual designers to create and edit style libraries for use with these Infragistics products. It is meant to allow graphic designers to collaborate more efficiently with developers in creating polished, professional applications.

The Application Styling Framework (ASF) divides the space between the developer space and the designer space to let each accomplish their tasks. The designer should not be concerned with how the developer implements the design and the developer should not be concerned with any aspect of the look and feel of the application. By reducing the job cross-over, NetAdvantage AppStylist can speed development.

Some of the features of NetAdvantage AppStylist include

• Styling similar elements – such that when a graphics artist wants the column headers on a table to appear like the column headers in a list or tree without having to re-specify these setting for each control, they now have that ability from within their own IDE.

• Target components by type – will let a regular appearance to be applied across all controls of a particular control type without the developer having to tediously go in and change all of the properties within an application.

• Target individual instances – lets you change individual instances of a control type to look different than the others all without the developer having to change anything within the application.

• Coexistence with the Infragistics Object Model – In Windows Forms it merges its style settings with those of the control at appearance resolution time. On the Web, it is based on the client machine as part of their browser's routine CSS class resolution.

NetAdvantage AppStylist

NetAdvantage AppStylist For Windows Forms will make the graphics artist feel right at home and allow them to become productive much more quickly through tooling that has been designed to work like the graphics media programs that they are already familiar with.

To work with NetAdvantage AppStylist you create/open a style library and base a new style library on an existing template. You can then customize the color palette of the style library. In the past, these color changes would need to have been coordinated between the graphics and applications designers, which really means that when the graphics designer wanted a change, the developer would have to stop work and make these modifications.

Then, to see the results of the changes, the graphics designer would have to wait until a test build has been completed to see the results. Now, in NetAdvantage AppStylist the graphics designer has access to every control and UI interface available so they can see what things will look like.

Once everything is complete, the graphics designer saves the style as an .isl file which the application designer then includes into the Windows Forms code. The developer then can implement it with as little as a single line of code: Infragistics.Win.Appstyling.StyleMangager.Load("MyStyle.isl");

When the application starts running, the appearance is defined by the new Style Library. Throughout the system, all controls are now updated to use the new styles without the possibility of errors or missed controls. If the graphics designer changes their mind on something, they just present an updated .isl file.

By technological differences, NetAdvantage AppStylist For ASP.NET works a little differently from the Windows Forms version. Here the style libraries are folder-based instead of file-based. Designers use .wsl files that describe the contents of their style library, but because the style library is now composed of separate .CSS and image files organized by style set and control type, style libraries can span multiple files in a nested folder structure.

NetAdvantage AppStylist

Those appearance settings that can be styled for the Web conform to the style properties as defined by CSS and supported by major browser vendors. By defining a style using a Web site's web.config file, the new style can be set without ever taking down the site or rebuilding it.

From there the workflow is basically the same as it was with Windows Forms. You begin with a template and modify it to the look and feel that you want. You then save the .wsl file and then update your site to take advantage of it.

I think that this is a tremendous addition to anyone using either NetAdvantage for ASP.NET or NetAdvantage for Windows Forms. Even if you are not using a graphics designer and the developers are doing the layout, this will be a tremendous productivity boost to anyone.

There are two licenses that you can purchase NetAdvantage AppStylist. First is with Priority Support for $1,195.00 USD, and Standard for $695.00 USD. For the Studio it is $1,490.00, and $995.00 respectively. Priority support includes one year of priority phone, 24-hour chat and rapid response online support. As an added bonus, with either license, along with the updates, upgrades, and product releases, you also get the C# code for all ASP.NET tools and designers. You can even download an evaluation copy. There are no features disabled during your evaluation period.

If you are tired of having to repeatedly go back and forth with designers on your ASP.NET or Windows Forms application interfaces, having to spend more time then you want on the look and not enough time on what really counts—the product—then I highly recommend you take a look at Infragistics NetAdvantage AppStylist.

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