The Ramblings of Two Microsoft .NET Developers, TFS, and Visual Studio ALM Guys --- "Yes, we are both named Ed."

Third-Party .NET Component Suite Comparison



NOTEThis is an unfinished article.  I have been working on this commentary for several weeks now but I felt I needed to post what I already have.  I will be adding sections over the next several days to complete everything so look for more links, screenshots, images, sections, and content.  I'll also watch for comments and post answers to really good questions or requests for more commentary.

I have been working on this post for several weeks now.  It's the "Toy Boy" in me that has been irking to talk about my experience with all of the .NET UI "toys" out there.  I am a huge fan and proponent of organizations choosing a third-party .NET component suite for purchase for their development team(s).  There are just so many reasons to have one chosen and used in all of an organization's applications.  The question that always pops up though is:  Which One?  In the last three years this question has come up for me from several different organizations including clients that I have consulted with.  Honestly, the best choice will always depend on the organization and its needs but I would like to go through a comparison of the major component vendor suites that are out today.  Even though I have my favorites, my goal was to be completely objective in my analysis and judging.  I will be comparing the following versions:

I have further split my comparison into control groupings to ease the reading for major controls.

Grids

<Section Not Completed Yet - Update Soon>

I'd like to see the component vendors offer data bars support like in Microsoft Office Excel 2007... that would be way awesome!

ASP.NET AJAX(Atlas)

Now, for the longest time I have been a huge fan of Telerik ajax control because of how simple it was to "ajaxify" your current web apps.  You still can easily but now you can also do the same with the new Infragistics release.  I would suggest giving them both a try but both components compete extremely well with each other and are compatible with the latest beta release of Microsoft AJAX.

Something minor but worth saying:  I love the gallery of different "loading" animations that are available out-of-the-box with the Telerik r.a.d. ajax control.  Take a look at them:  http://www.telerik.com/demos/aspnet/Ajax/Examples/Common/LoadingImages/DefaultCS.aspx

Editors

<Section Not Completed Yet - Update Soon>

Charting

Anyone who knows me knows how much I LOVE charts.  Love them Love them Love them!  (I know... the look you are giving me now is the same look I get from many when I talk about charts.  But hey, I LOVE charts!)  Charts in my opinion are one of those most fundamental tools you can use to convey so much information to an end user.  Well-presented charts are a must-have for every application that deals with data and needs to convey useful information.  With that said:  Absolutely nothing else to say:  Infragistics has the best charting controls between the two comparison suites.  I love using them.  They are just too easy to learn.  Just figure out how you want to convey the information using the design-time designers and then data bind!  POOF! 

Aside:  There are some things that I wish Infragistics would include in their charting controls.  Best of breed in the charting control space would have to be Dundas.  If you haven't taken a look at them, they have great controls for charts, maps, and gauges.  (Something that I would like to see included in the other component suites.)  Beware though... Dundas charges a pretty penny for them, but if all you need is really good charting controls, Dundas is definitely the way to go.

XHTML/Accessibility

<Section Not Completed Yet - Update Soon>

Toolbars

If you think about it, toolbars and menus have been around for a very long time; way before I was even born.  I think since the 1970s!  Wow... and they have really been the way UI designers have presented commands and features to users in just about every application.  With the latest release of Microsoft Office, Microsoft has invested several years of R&D for a new concept to replace menus and toolbars.  I think they did a great job with the Ribbon with Galleries and the Quick Access Toolbar, and "Office Button."

Telerik and Infragistics along with other component vendors have jumped onboard to offer us the ability to easily use these new UI features in our own applications!  Both have done a great job.  I'm somewhat biased with the Infragistics toolbar managers controls (with run-time customization support for end users) because I think the architecture of this is great.  The only two things that they missed (and I'm sure they know about since everyone has brought it up already) is that the window frame that would normally be "glass" in Windows Vista is being drawn over and the missing support for ribbon command merging in an MDI application.  The MDI merging has been one of the great features that has allowed Infragistics to excel.  Between all of the different ribbon controls out there I also think that Infragistics has done the best job at making their ribbon implementation most look like Microsoft's ribbon implementation in Office 2007.

<I want to put an image of each of the component suite's version of the Ribbon for comparison against an actual image from the Word Ribbon>

Office 2007 Ribbon UI Licensing Information

Microsoft has recently released how it is going to allow ISV's to use the new Ribbon.  It's pretty simple and here's my summary: 

  • Follow the Design Guidelines (Five years down the road we don't need to see a million different versions of the ribbon!  We want to keep it the same so that end users will be able to feel comfortable going from application to application
  • Register your application on the Office UI Site
  • Don't use the new UI in an application that competes with the core applications in Microsoft Office - (Sorry, you can't use the Ribbon if you are developing something like a commercial version of Open Office)

There is a great Channel 9 video available that even includes a Microsoft attorney in it (probably the only one that has a member of their counsel) that discusses this new licensing.  Both Infragistics and Telerik (and several other component vendors) are partners in offering controls that follow the design guidelines.  I am really happy that Microsoft has opened up I am proud to see the vendors stepping up and making this new UI revolution available to the masses for use in their own apps.  (They've even been released before the official release of Office 2007 to the public! CRAZY)  If you happen to have any more questions about the whole licensing thing you can always shoot a good question over to officeui@microsoft.com.

Scheduling

<Section Not Completed Yet - Update Soon>

Tablet PC

This is one area that Infragistics definitely wins over all component collections.  Coming from doing medical industry development, I have been able to leverage the Tablet PC features of the Infragistics NetAdvantage suite.  We were able to use the ink-enabled controls inside our Windows Forms medical records app and the physicians loved the ability to write with their Tablet PC into the patient's record.

Surprisingly, it is extremely easy too.  All you have to do is drag and drop the WinInkProvider on to your form and all of the Infragistics controls instantly show their Ink buttons on an Ink-enabled OS installation (if the Ink button display visible property is in its default state.)  You can force the display of the ink button as well for devices that aren't ink enabled so that you can draw ink with your mouse...  Not fun though :(

Composite UI Application Block (CAB) Support

Both suite's controls support the CAB framework.  If you haven't taken a look at this new application block it's actually quite handy for UI developers.  I really enjoyed learning about it and am looking forward to the opportunity to take advantage of it in my next app.  For more information on CAB:

From what I heard, developers from Infragistics actually contributed greatly to the CAB project and were an instrumental piece of making it all happen... Kudos to them.

Miscellaneous

Support

I have very strong opinions about support with a product.  Let's face it, you will never everything about the control suite that is available.  I would be surprised if there is someone at each of the component vendors who knows EVERYTHING about their control suite.

The one thing that just drives me bonkers is the inability to be able to call somewhat up on the phone to get some support at Telerik.  The support tickets that I have submitted have gone great in solving the issue but you know how well e-mail correspondence can go for in a support situation.  Especially having to wait between responses.  (Can you tell that I can get impatient at times? :) )

I just want to pick up the phone sometimes and just get something resolved so I can keep trucking with my development.  That's the nice thing about purchasing Priority Support with an Infragistics subscription.  You got to do it, it's well worth it and the people on the other side have always been extremely courteous and knowledgeable.  Not to mention spend as much time as is needed getting the issue resolved.  You know how you call some support lines and you can just tell the person on the other end just wants to get you off the phone as quickly as possible?...  Completely irritating if you ask me!

Learning

If you are looking for a great suite that has tons of further reuse but will require an investment of learning ramp-up time then go with Infragistics.  I will describe the Telerik r.a.d. controls suite as "simple" in comparison but that's not always what you want out of a control suite that you will use again and again.  Plus, a good way to go is to make the investment of going through the offered training.  Infragistics has both a fundamentals and advanced course that can be taken in person or online.  You can't beat that.

Some amount of time is needed to sit down and learn the Presentation Layer Framework (PLF) and use the controls effectively.  But once you have made the investment, you don't have much to learn about the individual controls after that since the whole suite uses the PLF.  Infragistics even offers the ability to use the PLF in any components that you actually write.  (See specifics)

Documentation

This is one area in which Telerik is lacking tremendously.  I have found it really difficult to navigate through their documentation.  Over the past couple of releases I would have to say that Infragistics has been improving their documentation pretty much exponenentially.  Before selecting a component suite for your organization be sure to download the trials and check out the documentation and make sure your developers will be able to find the info that they need!

Source Code

Both Telerik and Infragistics offer you their source code as part of a subscription purchase.  Until recently, Telerik would require that you purchased more than five licenses to have access to the source control.  I'm glad they changed that licensing model.

Pricing

Here's what I found as of December 1, 2006:

Telerik:

r.a.d. controls for ASP.NET Subscription:  $999
r.a.d. controls for ASP.NET:  $799

r.a.d. controls for Windows Forms Subscription:  included with ASP.NET subscription until March 2007
r.a.d. controls for Windows Forms:  included with ASP.NET license until March 2007

Infragistics:

NetAdvantage .NET (ASP.NET, Win Forms, and AppStylist) Subscription with Priority Support:  $1,490
NetAdvantage .NET (ASP.NET, Win Forms, and AppStylist) Subscription:  $995

NetAdvantage ASP.NET Subscription with Priority Support:  $1,290
NetAdvantage ASP.NET Subscription:  $795

NetAdvantage for Windows Forms Subscription with Priority Support:  $1,290
NetAdvantage for Windows Forms Subscription:  $795

NetAdvantage AppStylist with Priority Support:  $1,195
NetAdvantage AppStylist:  $695

Value

Telerik has a total of 18 controls (36 including the Windows Forms suite.)

Infragistics has a total of 88 controls and in my opinion has more bang for the buck...

<Section Not Completed Yet - Update Soon>

Volume Discounts

Telerik:

3 to 4 licenses - 10%
5 to 9 licenses - 20% 
10 to 19 licenses - 30%
20 or more - 40%

Infragistics:

Member of Enterprise License Program (>25 Any Infragistics Licenses) - 15%

Licensing

Pretty much every company has had great licensing models to deal with.  Per-Developer and royalty-free for applications produced from the licenses is definitely the way to go.  One thing that I am disappointed with is that the big developers force you to purchase another license for a build machine.  I really don't agree with this model.  The ability to centralize team builds using a product like Microsoft Team Foundation Server is a great feature to have... but having to spend more money just to have the binaries to compile your app?  Not a good way to go.  I hope that each of the components vendors will address this issue soon and change their licensing models to allow for a build machine license.

Single Vendor Exclusives and Other Vendor Comments

I've made a couple of comments about what each of the vendors developer that is exclusive to the other component vendors.  Also, I wanted to take the opportunity to make some comments that don't necessarily fit in any other section of this article.

Telerik

r.a.d. Rotator, r.a.d. Window, r.a.d. Upload and more... 

<Section Not Completed Yet - Update Soon>

Infragistics

AppStylist, TestAdvantage, JSF, and more....

<Section Not Completed Yet - Update Soon>

Developer Express

<Section Not Completed Yet - Update Soon>

Component One

<Section Not Completed Yet - Update Soon>

ComponentArt

<Section Not Completed Yet - Update Soon>

Summary - Final Conclusion

Honestly, if your organization hasn't already chosen a component suite for regular daily use in your applications you absolutely will benefit so much by going out and getting one.

 

<Section Not Completed Yet - Update Soon>

 

Let me know what you think... I'd like to hear about other developer's opinions about what they like/don't like in the different component suites!  I hope that this helps you out in your product selections and feel free to let me know if you have any further questions about my experience with any of the component suites.

I will end with this:  I also know the other camp of developers who feel that only the controls that are in Visual Studio should be used.  The opinion I hear from that camp is that you get stuck down to a third-party when you begin to use outside controls.  Well, here's my opinion:  You can make a good UI with the out-of-the-box Visual Studio components but you can't make an AWESOME one without a lot of effort.  Imagine having to draw really good looking charts using only the System.Drawing namespace!  Now imagine just dropping a chart from the toolbox, using a designer, and then data binding...  That is what is in store for you!

Now Go Vote

There are several publications that are asking for your votes on the different component suites... So now is your chance to give your opinion for which one is your favorite:

 

Some legal disclaimer stuff:

This article expresses my personal views and opinions and are not the views of my employer, previous employers (or future employers for that matter.)  The information contained in this article is provided without any express, statutory, or implied warranties.  In addition, the respective companies, products, components, and other commercially available software suites are either registered trademarks or trademarks of the respective organizations in the United States and/or other countries.

Funny aside:  While I was in college, I would always complain about writing reports anything over 500 words... LOL  I just absolutely hated doing it.  Although, if you haven't seen one of the cool new features of Microsoft Office Word 2007... wait until my next post.  I sure would have loved to have that while I was doing research and stuff in school!  Kids these days...  They have everything handed to them :)

 

Ed B.



Tuesday, December 12, 2006 11:27:33 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
VERY interesting. I look forward to reading more as you complete it. We are currently in the midst of deciding which suite to buy. Right now it looks like Infragistics. I'm comfortable that they either have what we need or will have it soon as these tools seem to be really maturing more and more every day.
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