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Discussions, news and rants from the CTO of DevExpress, Julian M Bucknall
  • Den Haag, DevExpress, TechDays… and you?

    Next week, on April 16 and 17, DevExpress in the forms of Mehul Harry, Mark Miller, John Martin, and yours truly will be in Den Haag (or The Hague, or La Haye, depending on your chosen language) for Microsoft TechDays 2014. It’s going to be a blast! It’ll be even better if you’re there too to make it a round 4 out of 4.

    To help set the scene – at least it’s the right country – here’s the view from my Amsterdam hotel window just now. I’m afraid I’ve never been to Den Haag, so don’t have any pictures of that yet.

    View from Amsterdam hotel window

    Not only will we have a booth at the conference, manned 12 hours per day, from 7 until 7, but we’re having a Mixer evening for our customers where we’ll be happy to ply you with your libation of choice in return for some honest feedback on how we’re doing and what you’d like to see from DevExpress in the future. This Mixer is at the Novotel World Forum on April 16 from 8:00 PM till 10:00 PM in the hotel bar and lobby. John has already sent out invitations for this (and has collected a bunch of replies), but if we managed to miss you and you want to be there, come visit us at the booth that first day.

    But there’s more! Both Mark and Mehul have speaking slots during the conference…

    Mark is speaking on Science of Great UI. “Get a big boost on your UI skills. If you believe you’re not an artist, that UI is merely subjective, or that Great UI takes too much effort, then this session is for you. We’ll learn the essence with simple, easy-to-retain guidelines. Regardless of whether you’re building interfaces for watches, phones, tablets, desktops, elevators, automobiles, or interplanetary spaceships; you’ll learn how to reduce visual noise, enhance clarity, lower barriers to entry, and make your interfaces a pleasure to use. It’s all about making customers satisfied, and this entertaining and information-packed session will show you how.” (Scheduled for April 16 at 1:15 PM.)

    Mehul is presenting on PhoneJS: Write Once, Deploy to Multiple Mobile Platforms. “Creating mobile apps is tough enough. Now try supporting a native look and feel for the top mobile platforms (iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, and Tizen). This session will show you how HTML5 and JavaScript can create cross-platform and native-style apps using PhoneJS.” (Scheduled for April 17th at 10:50 AM.)

    So, all in all, this visit to the Netherlands is going to be fun. I do hope to see you at the booth!

  • DevExpress will be at Build 2014, will you?

    We’re in the last stages of preparing for Microsoft’s Build 2014 conference, which, should you have been off skiing in the Rockies for the past month (lucky you!), is next week from Wednesday April 2 to Friday April 4. It’s in beautiful downtown San Francisco at the Moscone Center, and I really hope you’ve already registered because they’ve been sold out for quite a while. From all accounts, this particular Build should be a very interesting one to attend: there’s lots of rumors about sneak-peeking the next version of Windows, of Windows Phone, of Office on iOS, and so on. (News about a Xamarin acquisition, anybody?) In essence, if you’re working in the Windows space or the mobile space, you have to be there.

    San Francisco tram DevExpress will be exhibiting of course – can’t have a Build conference without us! – and present at our booth (we’re #315 on the third floor) will be Seth demoing everything related to analytics and reporting, Mehul ready and waiting to show off developing for the web, Azret talking about WinForms and WPF, and Emil discussing the enterprise. Our videographer Jeff will be in the background videoing anything and everything, and we’ll be doing some interviews. If you are a customer, make sure you pop along and say hi, we’d love to get feedback about how we’re doing, to discuss your plans for the future and how we might help. Make your voice heard! We’ll have our UI Superhero swag to give away, including T-shirts.

    Not only that, but we are co-sponsoring the BUILD Blogger Bash along with TechSmith and Intel. This event is being held at Southside Spirit House located near the Moscone Center, on Thursday April 3 from 7pm to 10pm. Many blogging luminaries will be there, including Mary Jo Foley, Ed Bott, Peter Bright, and Alex Wilhelm, as well as DevExpress’ bloggers, Seth and Mehul. (The rest of the crew will be there too, including Amy, who will be flying down just for this occasion.) Space is very limited (250 people maximum) and the event is already sold out, so if you don’t have tickets yet then you are probably out of luck. We’ll have a few complementary ones at the booth – very few, unfortunately – so if you want a chance at attending , come and see us very early on Wednesday at the booth. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

    We’ll definitely be blogging about the conference next week, about what we learn and what it means for us and you, our customers. Stay tuned!

  • DevExpress Universal for Dummies (part 2)

    (Julian writes: Joe Hendricks was kind enough to promise to write an occasional blog series about his experience in using our Universal subscription for creating web apps for non-profits. Part 1 was an introduction, and now Joe follows the thread by jumping into the fray with our training options. Over to you, Joe!)

    Hello again!

    Joe training in the forest in the Pacific Northwest

    Joe training in the forest in the Pacific Northwest. DevExpress training, that is.

    Sorry for the delay in getting this blog entry out. My Oncologist decided to take two pounds of flesh out of me four weeks ago and I think he used barbed wire instead of sutures to close me up! But thankfully both my cancers are in remission, so I don't foresee any more medical interruptions in the project.

    As a recap, I am a retired biz consultant with just enough C#/ASP.NET programming skill to be dangerous to the rest of the internet. I do volunteer work part-time for anti-poverty nonprofits, both hosting and designing/updating their websites on my colocated server. The goal for this project is to migrate these websites from a CodePlex open source CMS software to Developer Express's more feature-rich ASP.NET library and eventually manage it all via Developer Express's XAF/XPO toolset. By the end of this year I hope to have the nonprofits switched over to the new ASPx system and by the end of 2015 have it all running via XAF/XPO.

    The progress I have made since the last blog entry is all about my experience with the vast training options DevExpress offers. Similar to my experience with Photoshop, one needs to focus carefully on only the project needs or too many fun features end up distracting and causing unwanted 'feature creep.' For example, MVC might be fun to learn, but my limited time for the project would make that learning curve a crazy choice. One should be guided ultimately by the customer, and what they want. So what do the non-profit managers I serve want? Mainly a WYSIWYG approach to text and images. That is 90% of the project. 

    Demo Center Main Menu showing the link for ASP.NET demos

    My training strategy then was to watch the product overviews to know what is available and where to focus, including both the ASPx Suite public ones on the DevExpress website (above) and the ASPx Suite overviews in their subscription training.

    The link to the HTMLEditor documentation in the installed docs

    Browsing the online documentation reassured me that the HTML Editor was definitely where to focus.

    The specific help for the HTML Editor control

    To find the specific training for this component, the Demo Center that is installed with the product has a great menu, including links to YouTube tutorials for the HTML Editor and also installed Demo Projects. By ignoring the MVC-specific HTML Editor videos, I only needed to watch about half of them.

    The Training Videos on the DevExpress YouTube page

    For very specific questions, I searched the DevExpress website for answers already given to others. If that failed, sending an email to the support team at DevExpress will get you an answer within a business days, sometimes within hours! Their email response usually includes some sample code if applicable.

    After this approach to training myself on the HTML Editor, I am really comfortable and pleased with the many ways to adapt it. For example, I find that some non-profit managers use underlining a lot in their work applying for grants, writing policies, etc. But when they use underlining on a web page, the site visitor gets confused expected underlining to signify a link. The HTML Editor makes it a breeze to simply hide that button, but for an advanced user I can always make it visible. Another example is the ability to modify all the dialogs. This means I can rewrite messages in simpler, less technical form, since many of these non-profits are in other countries where English is the manager's second or third language (but they usually want the website in English to increase donations).

    Joe's first try at using the HTML Editor in an web page

    So what's next on my agenda?

    I need to learn how to load and save changes made in the Editor, whether to xml files or a database. I also need to sort out deployment and authentication roles using the ASPx Suite. I'll report how those are going in the next blog entry.

    Being an avid hiker and mountain climber, I sometimes enjoy doing the training and volunteer work outdoors. In the first photo above you can see what a great classroom our Pacific Northwest Forests make for webinars! (Either that or I’m Skyping Amanda!)

  • What’s New in 13.2.8 for the DevExpress Spreadsheet Control

    We’re still some time away from publishing our first major release of the year, 14.1, but there have been some great new features added to our controls. Rather than forcing you to wait a few more months, we thought you’d benefit more by getting them early – say halfway – in one of our minor updates. Version 13.2.8 is this minor update: it will be a bigger minor release than usual, so let’s call it a Major-Minor release.

    I’m here to tell you some of the nifty new enhancements to our “thick client” spreadsheet controls (that is, WinForms and WPF).

    1. Improvements to the API for working with cell editors. You can now programmatically close the cell editor and specify whether the value entered by the user should by committed to an active cell, all selected cells, an array formula, or should be rolled back.

    2. Extensions to Custom Draw. (WinForms Spreadsheet only) You can now custom paint not only the cell content and background, but also any column and row header content and background.

    Example of custom drawing column and row headers

    You should review the E5044 example, as it demonstrates how to use the new SpreadsheetControl’s CustomDraw* events.

    3. Display custom warning dialogs. This feature was actually introduced in 13.2.7. Essentially you use the IMessageBox service.

    Example of displaying a custom message box for the spreadsheet

    Review the E5052 example for sample code that uses this technique.

    4. Cell background patterns. Background patterns can now be displayed in worksheet cells.

    Background patterns in cells

    5. Diagonal borders. Diagonal borders can now be displayed in cells.

    CellDiagonalBorders

    6. Custom hyperlink click events. You can now handle hyperlink clicks (the new SpreadsheetControl.HyperlinkClick event) to invoke custom forms and perform custom actions.

    7. Printing specific worksheets. You can now specify which specific worksheet in a spreadsheet gets printed, by handling the new SpreadsheetControl.BeforePrintSheet event. This fires before a spreadsheet is printed and it enables you to define the name and index of a worksheet to be used.

    8. Replace custom functions with values. You can now replace custom function definitions with the calculated values when exporting a document. This helps prevent custom functions from being displayed as #NAME? when sharing with other spreadsheet applications.

    9. The Cell.Tag property. This allows you to store some data that is closely associated with a worksheet cell. This property value is cached depending on the cell reference, and the cache is automatically re-calculated if a cell has been moved, copied, or removed.

    10. Improvements to the cell selection API.  You can now programmatically select multiple non-adjacent cell ranges or shapes in a worksheet simultaneously.

    11. Formula editing: selecting cell ranges. The SpreadsheetControl allows you to interactively select cell ranges while editing a formula in a cell.

    Selecting cells and ranges when editing a formula

    12. End-user restrictions on actions with images/shapes. You can now restrict certain operations on images and shapes in your document. You can prevent the end-user from performing moves, resizes, changes in Z-order, or rotations. 

    13. Storing documents in a database. The SaveDocument and LoadDocument methods are available to store a spreadsheet in an external database and load it back from a database. See the E5132 example.

    14. MVVM support. Dependency properties that allow binding SpreadsheetControl options using an MVVM pattern have been implemented.

    15. Turning the Fill Handle on/off. (WinForms only) The Fill Handle (the indicator in the bottom right of a selected cell or range) can now be disabled if needed.

    Controlling the use of the Fill Handle

    16. Control the type of print preview.  (WinForms Spreadsheet only) Using the new SpreadsheetControl.Options.Print.RibbonPreview option, you can control whether the Print Preview is shown with a modern Ribbon UI or a traditional bar UI when called with the ShowRibbonPrintPreview() method.

    The spreadsheet's Ribbon Print Preview

    17. Rendering with GDI or GDI+. (WinForms only) You can now specify if you want the spreadsheet rendered with GDI or GDI+.

    18. Added Auto and MinMax threshold values for conditional formatting rules. (WinForms only) Use the MinMax value to set the minimum or maximum threshold of a two-color scale, three-color scale, or data bar conditional formatting rule to the lowest or highest value in the cell range to which the rule is applied. Use the Auto enumeration value to determine a scale for a data bar conditional formatting rule making 0 the minimum threshold and using the highest value in the cell range as the maximum. If the range to which the rule is applied contains negative values, the lowest value in the range becomes the minimum.

    As always, we’d love to hear your feedback about these changes and whether you like getting new features as and when they are ready, rather than waiting for the next major release.

  • DevExpress Universal for Dummies (part 1)

    (Julian writes: A week or so ago I was chatting with an old customer and friend and raconteur, Joe Hendricks, about the inestimable work he does for non-profit organizations. Specifically, I wondered if he was up to writing about using DevExpress Universal from the viewpoint of an amateur developer (his words!) who helps non-profits improve their web presence. Before he jumps all over me, I hasten to add that “old” there refers to his time as a customer of ours, not his age. Which is young. Well, OK, a young middle-aged. There, I’m sure that sorted that out. So… before I continue shooting myself in the foot, I’m handing it over to Joe.)

    Joe working on The Mustard Seed Project’s website.

    Joe working on The Mustard Seed Project’s website (an outreach for impoverished senior citizens) in their lobby.

    Hi! I am Joe Hendricks, a 61yr retired healthcare marketing manager, incurable punster, avid mountain climber/hiker and more importantly - amateur C#/ASP.NET programmer and volunteer webmaster for 20+ anti-poverty nonprofits. My limited database and programming skills did help my career a lot.

    The purpose of this series of posts is to share my experience (especially my mistakes) in using Developer Express’s Universal Subscription product to help those nonprofits.

    Project Background

    Since 2007, my wife and I have provided the graphic layout, content, CMS access and web hosting for nonprofits on our collocated Windows 2008 Webserver running ASP.NET/Internet Information Services(IIS). The nonprofits include a wide range of antipoverty services: retired policemen helping Darfur genocide refugee camp guards protect the refugees from raiders, a free medical clinic in Honduras, senior services here in my small town, an orphanage in Africa, education for the poor in the Dominican Republic, etc.

    We used the ASP.NET open source library called “My Web PagesStarter Kit” at Codeplex, mainly for these reasons:

    • Easy to use CMS for nonprofit staff
    • Text storage instead of database
    • Easy deployment (drag and drop onto server via Remote Desktop)
    • Basic features needed by small nonprofits (text with embedded images, photo gallery, contact form, login, search button, image and file uploading)
    • Works fine with Google Analytics, a PayPal Donate button and AddThis social media buttons
    • Some extensibility

    Although it’s worked well for several years, it is now becoming insufficient for these reasons:

    • Boxy CSS layout is becoming increasingly out of date
    • Cannot easily handle multimedia or scheduling/calendar
    • Suboptimal display on mobile devices
    • Too time consuming (my beloved wife lost her cancer battle and so now I have to do all the work for the websites)
    • Decreasing open source community interest and updates

    Because I had used some of the DevExpress Universal features at work before retirement, I have no doubt I will find more than what I need in their products. Why not just select their ASP.NET subscription? Well, Coderush and XPO/XAF, doh!

    The Project

    I plan to slowly switch over the nonprofits needing new functionality for their website visitors from the open source framework to DevExpress by the end of 2014. By the end of 2015, I hope to have full CMS functionality added. I can only apply 20 volunteer hours/week to this which must include my own training, continued webserver management and continued support for the current websites. I’m sure I’ll be “seeing” a lot of Oliver, Mehul and Amanda via their online DevExpress webinars and training - fun! (Thank heavens he didn’t mention me – Ed.)

    So the next blog update on this project will be after I finish installing Visual Studio 2013 Pro (due here next Monday) and finish going through the DevExpress demos that seem to apply to the project (including deployment, XPO setup, and each DevExpress ASP.NET control). I will also be using the new online training for ASP.NET to further improve my web skills. Hopefully by my discussing my path to ASP.NET enlightenment, you’ll find something to learn from my inevitable mistakes.

    PUNishing Summary

    If your project suffers from open sores like mine, dev in and grab control(s)!

  • TestCafe and BrowserStack: Run tests everywhere!

    Marion from our support team for all things JavaScript – she knows more than me, I kid you not – has written this excellent article about the new support for BrowserStack in the 13.2 version of TestCafé. “BrowserStack”, what’s that? was my immediate reaction, coupled with a blank look, but Marion explains all:


    We took great care to ensure that our TestCafe framework is easy to use no matter how you intend to test your applications. And now we’ve published our new testcafe-browserstack npm module, I am thrilled to let you know that testing your applications in all existing desktop and mobile browsers is now a breeze.

    How? BrowserStack, FTW!

    The testcafe-browserstack module allows you to create a tunnel between your machine and the BrowserStack network. Once a local tunnel is created, you can test your internal or external websites in BrowserStack remote browsers as easily as you would in your local browser. A nice capability, isn’t it?

    Here are the three simple steps you need to follow in order to run your tests in the browsers listed on BrowserStack:

    1. Install the TestCafe-BrowserStack module

    Use the following command line to install the module from npm:

    npm install testcafe-browserstack

    2. Connect a worker

    Get the sample code from here and create a new worker in TestCafe.

    3. Enjoy!

    Check whether you wish to run your tests with all the browsers installed on your machine or just in BrowserStack remote browsers or both.

    To learn more about how to install and use the testcafe-browserstack module, read the following support article: TestCafe - How to add remote workers from the BrowserStack web service

    Summary

    Use the powerful TestCafe framework to create functional tests for your application. Then, run your tests in all browsers and on all devices of your choosing using BrowserStack.  A win-win for all!

  • Tipping points for technology and software

    Since it’s a new year, time to think deep thoughts. Consider this proposition: when some technology graduates from expensive/uncommon to affordable/prevalent, there is a corresponding major advance in software to take advantage of it. That software extends the technology in ways that were never thought of in the first place.

    Le Penseur by RodinIn some way, this is ruddy obvious: why write software for a technology that is not succeeding? For sure, if the technology is expensive enough, you could make money providing expensive software for it, but in reality, why should you? You are in essence laying a bet that said technology will become more affordable and therefore common in the future, at which point you will be well poised for dominance in the field.

    No, what I find more interesting here is what happens to software when a technology hits the real mainstream. A small diversion if I may.

    The other day I bought an Eye-Fi Pro X2 SD card for my DSLR, mainly to try it out to see if it fits into my way of taking photos. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s not only a memory card but also a WiFi adapter: take a photo and it’s automatically uploaded to your PC via your WiFi network. The card came in a cardboard sleeve with just a USB adapter. No leaflets, no instructions, the sleeve had a sticker saying “go to this website to learn more about configuring the Eye-Fi card”. This points out to me several things. First, the SD card format had to become standard before making this adapter even made sense. Second, there has to be a reliance on the use of WiFi in the home. And third, it assumes that customers have ready access to fast internet (a driver and an app had to be downloaded and installed, you had to register with the site so that, if you wanted to, your photos would be uploaded to their servers).

    Fast internet is one of those technologies I’m talking about. Remember the days of Hayes modems and top speeds limited to 14.4Kbps? Would you do all you do now on the internet if you were limited to dialing up? No, of course not. The explosion of access to broadband internet has resulted in – for better or worse – blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, software installs via the web, regular updates to your operating system, browser wars, YouTube and streaming video, sharing of information and services, and so on, ad infinitum. Web software changed dramatically once fast internet was ubiquitous and no longer the province of the wealthy. Nowadays, we pretty much write software that assumes some kind of always-on connection, or we write software that can work anywhere so long as there’s a browser running it. What ideas do you have for software that need this always-there, fast internet?

    The smartphone (and tablet) form factor is another one of those technologies that, once it reached a certain tipping point, resulted in an explosion of different types of software and different kinds of apps. Just today, I typed “gas station” into Google Maps on my phone to get directions to the nearest gas station: the car was running on fumes and I didn’t know the area. What other kinds of apps do you rely on every day that would be impossible if you didn’t have this small computer in your pocket attached to some fast internet?

    Even more basic, just think of the software that’s now getting written in interpreted languages. Once the hardware got fast enough, and the computer science got clever enough, interpreted languages started being used all over the place, from server-side web apps to client-side apps in browsers. It’s not that long ago that Google showed the way with the V8 interpreter engine for JavaScript, meaning that client-side apps were valuable and fast enough for everyday use. And of course with interpreted apps, we’re now used to the speed and agility with which we can deploy changes to those apps (there’s no install!). Once the tech was there, the software and the way we use and deploy that software grew rapidly.

    And as a final example, let me point to the cloud. It wasn’t that long ago that putting your publicly-accessible servers on the internet (that same fast internet) was something only high-tech companies did, like Google and Amazon. Now the cloud (whatever your definition may be) is a commodity. Sure, you can store your photos “in the cloud” or your music (or even your license to listen to music that you don’t actually have locally on your hard disk as MP3s), but these days people are doing so much more: storing data and making it available, web sites, app servers, scalability, development, all on a pay-as-you-go type plan, rather than having to purchase servers for your own data center. The interesting thing about the cloud is that over the past year or so, it’s become almost ubiquitous and it’s certainly cheap. Are you a start-up? It’s cheaper to provision a few virtual servers from Microsoft or Amazon than to purchase the infrastructure to do it yourself. You are developers, not IT managers. Where this will lead, I’m not sure, but of one thing I am certain, this same fast internet plus the cloud will result (has resulted) in some new and innovative software.

    The basic problem is of course (a) spotting a technology that could/might/will turn mainstream (I, for example, am no clairvoyant), and (b) what kind of software could be designed and written to take advantage of that technology. Here’s a list of tech that is at least interesting, but not yet mainstream, what do you think?

    • Wearable computers, like Google Glass
    • Televisions, such as 4K TVs, Google Chromecast, Microsoft XBOX, etc
    • Automobile intelligence, such as performance monitoring, car-to-car communications
    • The connected home, for example, Nest
    • Big Data provisioning and processing (for some definition of Big Data)
    • 3D printing

    Which of those (or others) triggers that spark? What ideas do you have that, if only some technology X became prevalent, would mean giving up your day job for a chance at software fame and fortune?

  • DevExpress VCL 13.2: Modernizing your apps

    As long-time customers know, we release our new major versions at the end of the first half of the year and at the end of the second half (June and December, usually). A couple of weeks ago, we released DevExpress Universal 13.2, so this week it’s the turn of our VCL subscription. DevExpress VCL 13.2 continues our current momentum to help you show your customers and end-users that Delphi and C++Builder can be used to produce modern apps, with fresh designs and up-to-the-minute user experiences. It really is time to move away from those grey late-90s application designs.

    So if I had to pick a topic, I suppose the main motif with VCL 13.2 is modernizing your apps. New themes, touch capabilities, tablet-like behaviors all provide a framework for creating a modern UI.

    New Features and Enhancements

    Improved VCL Touch Experience More Touch. Continuing our efforts to give you touch-centric capabilities in our controls, we’ve added optimized touch behaviors to the Filter Control, the Page Control, the Tab Control, the Date Editor (shown), and the Blob Editor.


    VCL Mail Client App Office 2013 Light GrayThemes. Modern apps need modern themes. Meet Metropolis, Metropolis Dark, Office 2013 Light Gray, and Office 2013 Dark Gray. You can now provide the UI your users expect from the latest Microsoft Office suite.


    VCL Tree List Pixel ScrollingPixel Scrolling. You know how a list scrolls on your tablet? Buttery smooth, no sudden jumps? We added this per-pixel scrolling to the Table View and the Banded Table View in ExpressQuantumGrid last time, and this time we’ve added it to the ExpressQuantumTreeList, ExpressVerticalGrid, and the Layout View in the grid. When used in Touch mode, pixel scrolling is enabled by default. This feature is available nowhere else, but your users now expect that experience.


    VCL Tile Control Small TilesTiles. Windows 8.1 was recently released with a set of enhancements to the Start Screen, and we’ve migrated the major visual ones to our Tile Control. So now you have small tiles, group caption editing and multi-tile rearrangement using drag and drop.


    Summary

    These are just a few of the enhancements and new features of DevExpress VCL 13.2, mainly those that touch (pun intended) on modernizing your applications. To see all the new features – including the Icon Library and the new Color Picker -- please visit our What’s New page.

    I hope I’ve shown how DevExpress VCL 13.2 continues our drive to help you modernize the traditional VCL app. By incorporating the new Office 2013 themes and becoming more touch-aware, your applications will stand out from the crowd. And, by reading what we’ve added to our .NET WinForms product over the past year, you’ll have a very good idea about what’s coming up in 2014. It’s an exciting time to be writing apps with VCL. Stay tuned to see if you’re right!

  • VCL Roadmap news: Delphi 7 and 2007 support

    We’ve just completed our Company Summit for 2014, where we all meet up, management and team leads alike, to discuss and formulate a plan for the following year. One of the results from this endeavor is our annual Roadmap, which we publish late December/early January. Prior to this being published – and rather than burying this news in the middle of what is going to be a large document – I wanted to call out a decision we made with regard to the DevExpress VCL Subscription.

    Delphi RoadsignI’ve been saying for a while now that supporting Delphi 7 and Delphi/C++Builder 2007 is proving to be less and less viable. These older versions use shortstrings, have no modern language features, have issues with Windows Vista (!) and later (and I’ll put on my Microsoft PSA hat here and reiterate that Windows XP support is gone forever in April next year). And then I read Warren Postma’s excellent article he published a couple of days ago: “ Modernize your codebase: Inspiration to Ditch your Ancient Delphi Version”, which in essence cemented some of the feelings we have in supporting these older compilers.

    We have in place plans for providing some major new controls and features for our VCL Subscription in 2014. It should come as no surprise that these features will be inspired directly from some of the new WinForms controls and improvements we’ve provided during 2013 (here’s a list of those, should you be interested – try and guess which ones we’ll be doing for VCL in 2014). The great thing about doing it this way is that the WinForms team have found all the design and platform issues and worked around them, meaning the VCL team can avoid them and produce equivalent controls more easily. As a quick example: consider pixel scrolling. We provided it for DevExpress WinForms and then we added it to DevExpress VCL – but the WinForms team had to work out all the nuances and problems.

    But… the run-times are different (.NET is not VCL, C# is not Delphi) and so despite that there’s still quite a bit of work to do. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, and all that. Compounding that with the need to consider shortstrings, the lack of generics, rudimentary interface support, a less sophisticated IDE, and so on in order to support Delphi 7 or 2007, means that our workload increases dramatically to offer a new control for arguably not much benefit. We’d rather expend our time and resources to implement new functionality for the majority than to shoehorn in a new control into a 7 to 10-year-old compiler and run-time for the small number who are still on those platforms. Hence our decision:

    From 14.1 onwards, all new controls and features published in the DevExpress VCL Subscription will only be for Delphi/C++Builder XE or later, whether 32-bit or 64-bit.

    My strong recommendation is to upgrade to Delphi or C++Builder XE5 – Embarcadero do have some attractive upgrade discounts at the moment – for at least your new projects. I’d also move your older projects forward as well, but I recognize that many people are using pre-compiled libraries from now-defunct companies and can’t do so. Either way, if you do want to use these new 2014 controls you will have to use a more modern compiler and IDE.

  • DevExpress Universal 13.2: Building modern apps everywhere

    If you’ve been a DevExpress customer for a while now you’ll know the cadence of our releases: June and December, named year dot 1 and year dot 2. So it should come as no surprise that this week is the week we’re releasing the second major release of 2013 for the .NET and Visual Studio platforms. As I look through the What’s New for Universal, I’m struck firstly by the depth of some of these new features and secondly by the breadth of platforms they cover.

    With this announcement blog post though, I’m not going to just reiterate all of the entries in that What’s New page since I’m certain you’re perfectly capable of browsing through that set of pages without a guide. Instead I’m going to take a look at the new features thematically, and the most prominent motif I see is creating modern apps.

    By “modern apps”, I’m not just talking about tiles and touch and flat UI. If that’s all this post was, I don’t know who would get utterly bored first: you reading it or me writing it. Agreed, there is a lot of that aspect to creating a modern app, but I want to define the term more broadly. Over the years, I’ve seen the general line-of-business applications we write surfacing data analytical tools as part of the app as well as shifting to being more modern in appearance. Users now expect not only grids (with the full panoply of sorting, grouping and filtering functions) but pivot grids, charts, reporting, and dashboards in their apps. They want to extract information from their data, and to present it in a visually arresting and beautiful manner. I’d say that’s what modern apps are all about.

    New features and enhancements

    DevExpress WPF Office 2013 Dark Gray Theme

    Themes. Yes, I know, I said I wasn’t going to talk about them, but I should at least point out that we now have new themes across the board. WinForms gets three themes inspired by Visual Studio (Visual Studio 2013 Blue, Black and Light); WPF and Silverlight get two Office-inspired themes, Office 2013 Dark Gray and Office 2013 Light Grey, as well as a special touch-centric modern theme called TouchlineDark; and DevExtreme gets a couple of new themes, the first for Android (Holo Light), and a generic, non-platform-specific theme for those times you want the same look and feel across all devices. Not to be outdone, ASP.NET and MVC gain a Moderno theme.

    DevExpress ASP.NET Ribbon

    Ribbon. Like it or not, but in this age of touch-enabled devices and laptops, the ribbon turns out to be a clever well-thought out UI concept and so ASP.NET/MVC finally gains a Ribbon control of its own. We’ve also increased the use of our Ribbons: many controls, such as the spreadsheet, now have the option to prefill the form’s ribbon with standard buttons and actions.

    DevExpress WPF Spreadsheet

    Spreadsheet Control. In 13.1, we previewed a spreadsheet control  -- the ultimate data analysis tool in a way – for WinForms. The control comprises two main parts: a highly-optimized spreadsheet engine that knows about cells, worksheets, formulas, the usual spreadsheet file formats, and so on, and a presentation part that has an auto-generated Ribbon UI and can display and edit data in cells. Thanks to this foresight, in 13.2 we’ve now provided a spreadsheet control for WPF and, get this, ASP.NET WebForms. Not only that, but we’ve added support for charting and mail-merges. And of course, since it’s a DevExpress control – it participates in our theming support. All in all, you can now easily create a modern analytical app on the web or for Windows.

    Windows 8 PDF Viewer Control

    PDF Viewer. Again, in 13.1 we previewed a PDF Viewer control for WinForms, with the same kind of split between “engine” and presentation as we did for the spreadsheet. In 13.2 we’ve added a PDF Viewer control for WPF and Windows 8 XAML (preview only). There’s support for zooming, scrolling, text search, embeddable fonts, and so on. The traditional Windows platforms have a ribbon interface and a search UI; the Windows 8 version supports full touch capabilities and rendering to a DirectX drawing surface for speed.

    DevExpress HTML-JS Bubble chart

    Charting. For WinForms and ASP.NET/MVC, there’s Legend Check Boxes to allow users to toggle the visibility of chart elements, and there’s automatic data aggregation of data based on chart size and zoom level. WPF and Silverlight allow for the Legend Check Boxes too; WPF also gains sparklines. The DevExtreme team have outdone themselves, and provided a plethora of new data visualization functionality: Bubble charts, constant lines, crosshairs, shared tooltips, data aggregation, logarithmic axes, and so on.

    DevExpress WinForms Map Control

    Maps. These controls have become very popular on every platform, so we’re happy to announce improvements to all our map controls. The WinForms Map Control gains automatic zooming and panning, as well as printing. It has support for route planning using Bing Services. For WPF and Silverlight we have support for item virtualization via web services to provide faster performance. DevExtreme acquires a vector map widget, allowing you to quickly configure a map with markers, tooltips, zooming, and centering.

    DevExpress Dashboard IDE Integration

    Dashboards. The biggest news here is Visual Studio integration: you can now create dashboards from within your favorite IDE. OLAP servers are now supported, as well as calculated fields and Dashboard parameters. Other additions include shapefile maps and sparklines.

    DevExpress Reporting Pre-printed Forms

    Reporting. There are new features across the board for DevExpress reporting. XtraReports Suite gains a new document view control for ASP.NET, support for pre-printed forms. and an enhanced user experience for Print Preview (such as the ability to print report selection, navigate to page number). Report Server now includes support for stored procedures and editable HTML email templates for server notifications. SNAP Reports provides mail merge capabilities, an integrated Query Builder (with parameters), and sparklines. XAF now integrates XtraReports at design time in the new ReportsV2 Module.

    Document Server. The new PDF Document Processor can find text in PDFs and retrieve results, extract text from PDFs, export any page as an image or print it. The Spreadsheet Document Processor now performs mail merge and data export operations.

    DevExpress XAF soft validation

    XAF. Apart from the ReportsV2 Module discussed above: support has been added for custom fields (and at run-time too) and soft validation rules (where entities can be committed with warning-level data errors).

    DevExtreme AndroidLightTheme

    DevExtreme. There’s a lot of new functionality here, some of which has already been mentioned. I’ll switch to a bulleted list for the rest:

    • Visual Studio integration has been enhanced greatly. There’s TypeScript support and a much-improved DevExtreme View Designer.
    • Support for iOS7 and Tizen has been added.
    • Angular.js is now supported for the UI widgets.
    • The already extensive list of mobile widgets has been supplemented with a pivot and a panorama widget (inspired by the similar widgets on Windows Phones), a popover widget (and toast), a radio group, an autocomplete textbox, an action sheet, and so on.
    • The list widget is now editable and, at your discretion, allows end-users to select and/or delete items, but even bigger than that, we’ve added support for webkit-based CSS native scrolling.
    • You can now fully localize DevExtreme applications as required. Dictionaries for the text, captions, and messages that are added by the framework to your applications are supplied with the product. In addition, you can now generate custom user dictionaries with the strings used in your application.
    • You can now use TypeScript (instead of JavaScript) when developing mobile apps with DevExtreme . The distribution includes a project template that references the framework's TypeScript definition files and provides sample TypeScript code required when developing a DevExtreme application.

    DevExpress CodeRush Debug Visualizer

    Last, but not least, CodeRush. Its XAML support has been improved with renaming identifiers, navigating through references, as well as showing code issues for undeclared static resources and obsolete members. The Debug Visualizer has had many enhancements, not limited to evaluating arguments and variables in VB and JavaScript, better evaluation and display of expression values, a unique visualization for out and ref arguments, and improved common debug workflows, such as stepping into LINQ queries and nested lambda expressions.

    Summary

    I hope I’ve shown how Universal 13.2 has expanded the definition of what it means to be an modern app. It’s not just eye-candy in the form of touch-enabled controls and modern flat UIs, but brain-candy in the form of advanced analytical and data visualization controls. By reading between the lines, you’ll also have a good idea for some of the things we’ll be adding in 2014. Stay tuned to see if you’re right!

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