ASP.NET AJAX Web Controls – AJAX Experience Without Learning AJAX :)

It has probably been 2 years since I did an evaluation of all the web controls for ASP.NET, which in technology terms is a lifetime and means I know absolutely nothing. When I did my previous evaluation I mainly needed a grid control and menu control for ASP.NET. Two years ago I chose the Janus GridEx Control as the grid and ComponentArt Menu as the menu. I think I made an excellent choice as the components have served me well over the years.

I just started a new project where I need to do a re-evaluation of web controls for ASP.NET, and of course, I need to look at their support for AJAX, both AJAX and ASP.NET AJAX. Today I started looking at both Janus and ComponentArt because I am familiar with their products, and later I will look at other popular vendors like Telerik, etc.


Grid Controls

I wanted to play with Grids today, because the grids will be the heart and soul of my project. However, I stopped playing with the ComponentArt Grid Control when I dropped it on the form and saw this in disbelief:


I have to switch to HTML view to configure the ComponentArt Grid? Definitely not up to ComponentArt's standards. To be fair, I could set the DataSourceId to SqlDataSource1 and get some results, but the experience was a little weak. I will have to try ComponentArt's grid again later.

Update: 12/31/2006

I got the ComponentArt Grid to work after previewing their examples. I am still surprised they don't make the configuration easier with some type of visual designer. However, I think as you get more familiar with the grid, configuring won't be as big of a task.



I probably wouldn't be as surprised as I am, but I am used to the Janus GridEx control which has a cool designer that goes out and grabs the database schema, etc.




AJAX Web Controls – No AJAX Experience Necessary!

Anyway, after that initial shock, I started playing with the Janus GridEx control and was very pleased with what you could do with just placing an SqlDataSource and GridEx control on a web form and writing no code:




That is seriously cool IMHO, but my guess is that this is pretty common today for all web control vendors. What impresses me with GridEx the most, however, is that with a quick 2 second change I can get it to use AJAX – No programming or AJAX knowledge necessary:



Now instead of experiencing the dreaded postback when getting more data from the database, etc., I just see the wonderful AJAX Loading icon briefly. Seriously, this is awesome! I don't need to know anything about AJAX. I just set the grid to Callback Mode and eliminate postbacks!

Update 12/31/2006: The ComponentArt grid is pretty similar and offers 3 modes:



The Client mode does grid functionality completely on the browser, no callbacks or server involved. Very cool.


Callback Managers – Standard Controls Get the AJAX Experience!

The Callback Managers impressed me as well. Both ComponentArt and Janus have a control called Callback and Callback Manager, respectively. I assume they do the same, but I just played with the Janus Callback Manager today because I had the grid working. The Janus Callback Manager will "turn a standard control into an AJAX control."

I can toss the Janus Callback Manager and the standard Calendar control in VS 2005 on a web form and within about 2 minutes have the calendar using callbacks ( not normal postbacks ) to the server and filtering the data in the GridEx control based on JoinDate:




Here is the only code I wrote to filter the GridEx Control based on the date selected in the calendar control:


protected void Calendar1_SelectionChanged(object sender, EventArgs e)
    DateTime joinDate = Calendar1.SelectedDate;

    GridEXFilterCondition filter = new GridEXFilterCondition
this.GridEX1.RootTable.Columns["JoinDate"], ConditionOperator.Equal, joinDate); GridEX1.RootTable.FilterCondition = filter; }


Here is the result with No postbacks! All callbacks!




This impresses me a lot! I am sure there are other ways to pull off this client-side filtering as well which I will need to explore. The fact that I can do this within a couple of minutes without reading the documentation is pretty cool, however.

I didn't want to seem biased, so for kicks I did try out the ComponentArt Callback Control as well to see if I could get it to work with the Janus GridEx Control and the standard VS 2005 Calendar Control. Again, I got the dreaded switch to HTML view to configure again. I have to check out the documentation later and report back. I am probably making this seem worse than it is. Again, I am just used to the visual designers, etc.



Update 12/31/2006:

Again, I think this control could use a visual designer, but I will give ComponentArt an A+ on providing demos on their website as well as samples where you can literally cut-and-paste code to get up to speed quickly. For more info on the Callback Control, see here.



So, in the end, this rather amazes me. I was thinking that the AJAX experience was going to be a lot of work, but my guess is that the control vendors are taking care of this for me. And, quite frankly, I didn't want to have to learn this technology in depth if I could get away with it.

Update 12/31/2006: Note I am not saying I want to be completely ignorant of the technology, only that there are sooooo many technologies to know and learn that it is difficult / impossible to be an expert at everything. One has to pick and choose what technologies are important and of interest to him / her. AJAX is not at the top of my list and I am hoping I can leverage a lot of the features in existing components where possible.

I haven't even looked at Telerik, which I expect to have some wonderful offerings. ComponentArt has a suite of controls specifically aimed at ASP.NET AJAX which is currently in beta. Janus supports the current release of ASP.NET AJAX as well, so I will take a look at that later, too. And, there are other vendors that offer web controls, too, which I look forward to evaluating.

Really cool!

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3 Responses to ASP.NET AJAX Web Controls – AJAX Experience Without Learning AJAX :)

  1. SirMike says:

    Yes, Telerik controls are very good. Although they looks heavy it’s just the false impression – in fact they’re really lightweight and easy to use. I haven’t seen any controls set as advanced as telerik. Their support is also very good.

  2. I agree with Eric.

    I’ve been an Infragistics user for a few years now, and have just recently switched over to Telerik. I am amazed more and more, every day, with the simplicity, functionality, and ease of development that Telerik provides.

    I’ve used ComponentArt in the past as well, though, and was consistently happy with their controls as well.

  3. Eric Wise says:

    I think you’ll be very happy with Telerik. As far as quality and bang for your buck, I have been of the opinion that they are tops for that last couple years.

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