First Looks

Leverage Advanced Grid Components

ComponentOne's Studio Enterprise suite offers feature-rich components for desktop, Web, and mobile app development, available by annual subscription with quarterly updates.

ComponentOne's Studio Enterprise is a suite of more than 100 components for .NET WinForms, ASP.NET Web Forms, Windows Mobile applications, and legacy ActiveX products. The toolkit comes as a yearly subscription with quarterly bug fixes, enhancements, and even new products. The Q4 2003 release added controls for the .NET Compact Framework and a Web source-code spellchecker.

Two grid assemblies—FlexGrid for .NET and True DBGrid Pro—are the suite's headliners. FlexGrid for .NET lets you display and edit hierarchical data. Its features include range statistics, data validation, and input masks (see Figure 1). True DBGrid is especially strong in display modes, such as rich scrolling, background colors linked to data, foreground images, and popup windows. You can make these grids resemble Outlook or Excel.

There are plenty of other goodies in the suite. The 4-D graphing control can add sophistication to real-time data-analysis apps. The reporting components are first-class, and the print preview does a good job of scaling data to fit available space. DataObjects for .NET is a data control with useful design-time capabilities for enhancing ADO.NET (but beware of its steep learning curve if you're under the gun to ship a product). Data-compression components include Zip for .NET, which compresses and decompresses regular .NET streams. The Zip version for mobile devices cuts memory usage by compressing a stored dataset.

ComponentOne should consider an "export to Microsoft Excel" feature to enhance FlexGrid's great support for automatic subtotals and reporting. The company's Web site refers to adding "Excel-style cell notes" to grids, but the documentation doesn't mention it. A ComponentOne support person responded to my newsgroup post with sample code showing how end users can insert cell comments in a popup yellow "sticky."

On the Web side, WebGrid for ASP.NET is packed with features, including custom grouping, row spanning, and easy data updates. The WebMenu and WebBar components include excellent design-time tools that make building menus a snap in VS.NET. WebChart has some fascinating interactive capabilities that let you highlight chart elements and rotate the view. All the controls include sample code and some feature tutorials.

On the downside, Web developers will be disappointed, because ComponentOne doesn't allow unlimited royalty-free distribution of the Web controls; you get only one production Web-server license. Prepare to pay a hefty $449.95 per Web server for the second license, and double this for a dual-processor machine. ComponentOne's excellent bundle of fine components would be even better with royalty-free distribution across the suite.

ComponentOne Studio Enterprise
Phone: 800-858-2739; 412-681-4343
Price: $899.95
Quick Facts: Comprehensive suite of data, grid, input, graphing, navigation, compression, print, and reporting controls for ActiveX, mobile, ASP.NET, and WinForms.
Pros: Excellent variety of high-quality controls for the major Windows environments; responsive online support.
Cons: Web controls not freely redistributable; additional licenses are expensive.

Maintain Quality Code

VS.NET has made developing and maintaining quality code much easier. However, despite all its new features, Microsoft's IDE doesn't help enforce corporate coding standards or allow you to perform memory, performance, or coverage analysis of your code. Having the tools to help prevent costly mistakes and track down hard-to-find performance and memory issues quickly is an absolute necessity for development projects big or small.

DevPartner Studio Professional Edition 7.1 is an add-on suite of tools from Compuware that integrates completely with VS.NET. It extends your software-development toolbox by providing you with the tools you need to improve quality and minimize debugging complexities, even in large distributed applications. The tools' features include customizable, rule-based code reviews; performance and memory analysis; code-coverage analysis; runtime error isolation; and analysis of distributed applications that can span ASP, ASP.NET, COM, COM+, Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS), Internet Information Services (IIS), Internet Server API (ISAPI), and client- and server-side scripting (see Figure 1). Almost all the product's features provide support for VB.NET, C#, or C++. Exceptions are the Error Detection feature, which supports unmanaged applications written in C++; and Code Review, which supports only VB.NET and C#.

You can use DevPartner Studio at all stages of the development process and combine its powerful up-front quality-assurance features—such as code reviews and coverage analysis—with debugging tools that enable you to understand how your application performs and consumes resources. DevPartner Studio is customizable; you can create, delete, or adjust the 610 code-review rules that ship with the product to meet the specific needs of your software-development standards and best practices. The product also ships with a number of valuable utilities, including NuMega FailSafe, which helps to add instrumentation to VB programs, and NuMega SmartCheck for runtime debugging of VB applications.

The tools that DevPartner Studio provides are extremely valuable during the build and debug phases of your projects—especially for large, distributed enterprise solutions—and can improve the quality of the software you produce significantly. Once you integrate DevPartner Studio into VS.NET, you'll have a hard time remembering what your development environment was like without it.

DevPartner Studio Professional Edition 7.1
Phone: 800-468-6342
Price: Contact vendor for pricing.
Quick Facts: Analysis and review tools that can help you catch and fix costly mistakes early in the development process.
Pros: Integrates fully into VS.NET; customizable, rule-based code reviews.
Cons: No code-review support for C++ and J#; no central storage for corporate code-review rules.

Build C# Apps

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need VS.NET to build .NET applications. In fact, you can download the .NET Framework SDK for free and write your own C# applications in virtually any text editor, even though you probably won't win any productivity awards. C#Builder for the Microsoft .NET Framework—a design-driven, pure-C# development environment from Borland—gives you a third option.

C#Builder provides all the features you'd expect to find in a modern development environment, including a multiproject view of your solution, database explorers, a forms designer, customizable tool pallets, feature-laden debugging and compilation, an object inspector that allows you to set/view controls' properties and events, and a rich set of controls that simplify data access and GUI development (see Figure 1). C#Builder also ships with Crystal Reports and a set of evaluation controls from ComponentOne Studio Enterprise that can help you create professional-looking, feature-rich applications out of the box. Other features help set the bar when it comes to coding accuracy and productivity: Code Folding, which allows you to roll up code in your code window; Error Insight, which displays errors as you type; and Code Insights, which includes code completion and parameter listings.

The product comes in Architect, Enterprise, Professional, and Personal flavors. The Architect version has a great deal more modeling and usage-analysis capability than other versions. You can get a complete breakdown of the differences among the versions from the Borland Web site.

One of C#Builder's strengths is its ability to interoperate with CORBA infrastructures and Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) platforms in the same way you might interoperate with COM-based solutions. This is an extremely important feature for organizations that must support multiple development platforms or need to integrate with J2EE or CORBA directly. C#Builder also ships with several databases you can use within the development environment, including Borland InterBase, Microsoft SQL Server, and IBM's DB2. C#Builder uses Wise Owl to obfuscate your assemblies to help ensure that your code and intellectual property are secure once your application is deployed.

One of C#Builder's most important features is its ability to integrate with Borland's suite of requirements-management, testing, source-control, and change-management tools. This capability can provide an end-to-end solution for your enterprise software-development needs.

C#Builder is a powerful and viable alternative to VS.NET. If you've invested in other Borland products already to help manage your development environment, or if you need to interoperate directly with J2EE or CORBA applications, you should definitely evaluate C#Builder.

C#Builder for the Microsoft .NET Framework
Phone: 831-431-1000
Price: $2,499 for Architect, $1,799 for Enterprise
Quick Facts: A complete C# software-development environment for the .NET Framework, with forms builders, advanced code and property windows, and a UML-based model interface to your software.
Pros: Lets you integrate with J2EE and CORBA applications; provides a model view of your software; ships with developer licenses for many common database products; integrates directly into Borland's suite of management and testing tools.
Cons: ComponentOne components are shipped and installed with the product, but must be purchased before use.

Manage the Development Process

Posted January 30, 2004

Software-development and project-management processes are documented rarely and enforced poorly in most organizations, introducing risk and making successes hard to repeat. Effective organizations integrate source-code management (SCM) and release management with the process of building software. Integrity Solution from MKS is a set of integrated tools that provide this capability.

Integrity Solution combines MKS' Integrity Manager and Source Integrity products. Integrity Manager helps provide the process-management infrastructure you need to automate and enforce development practices. Its features include issue management with automated escalation, change tracking, a graphically based workflow-management engine, wizard-driven reporting, and integration into Microsoft Project 98/2000 (see Figure 1). Integrity Manager facilitates communication across entire teams—even if they're dispersed geographically—through features such as rule-driven e-mail notifications and a robust Web- or Java-based client. Integrity Manager supports heterogeneous environments and development platforms, including Windows, Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, Red Hat Linux, and SuSE Linux.

Source Integrity manages source code and releases across platforms and projects. It integrates with several IDEs, including VS.NET, Borland JBuilder, Sybase PowerBuilder, WebGain VisualCafĂ©, IBM VisualAge for Java, and IBM Rational Rose. Like Integrity Manager, Source Integrity has a distributed architecture that provides support for geographically distributed teams that connect over high-latency, low-bandwidth lines, without compromising the benefits of central storage and management. Source Integrity promotes code reuse through project sharing and provides a rich graphical view of project history and dependencies. The product also uses the concept of a Change Package—a collection of artifacts affected by a single change—allowing you to label and track the change as a whole instead of individual files.

Source Integrity's integration with Integrity Manager brings process management, tracking, and collaboration into the world of SCM. These products leverage many data-storage solutions, such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, DB2, and PointBase, to align with your specific infrastructure requirements. Integrity Solution shines when you need extensive, heterogeneous support across geographically separated organizations. The product is built upon a scalable and flexible architecture that will support your needs as your software-development practices grow and evolve. In view of the product's robust architecture, you'd do well to consider consulting and extensive planning before attempting to integrate it with your business.

Integrity Solution
Phone: 800-265-2797
Price: Contact vendor for pricing.
Quick Facts: Combines Integrity Manager and Source Integrity to provide advanced collaboration and SCM support.
Pros: Flexible, scalable, able to cross geographic and project boundaries; provides support for many development environments and platforms; demo is available online.
Cons: Installation and configuration requires extensive planning.


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