There are some major releases which accrue a certain amount of importance, and, in looking through the What’s New for this first major release of 2013, I can’t help but feel that sense of significance. The reason? There’s so much good stuff here that, if I were to do it complete justice, I’d just be repeating the selfsame What’s New.
So, let me approach things from a thematic angle, if I may.
One of the things we’ve noticed over the past year, despite all the news from Microsoft during that time, is that around half of our customers are still writing thick-client apps on Windows, be it with WinForms or WPF. Yes, all the buzz might be about Windows AppStore apps, yet the bread and butter is being earned on desktop Windows. It seems that taking care of these desktop developers, helping them to slowly get their users accustomed to the Modern UI design esthetic and the new data visualizations and navigation metaphors, without abandoning their codebase or experience, might be a good idea.
We’ve already done some work, certainly, with our 12.x series of releases. Things like the Metropolis themes, the tiles, the concessions to touch, all these have helped. With 13.1 though, we decided to go much further to aid the desktop app developer with the addition of some major new controls.
- A new spreadsheet control with full support for formulas, cell formatting, import/export to Excel file formats or CSV, and so on. No more shelling out via COM to Excel: you can drop a fully-optimized Microsoft Office-inspired spreadsheet right in your apps. We even provide a Ribbon configuration with all the usual spreadsheet functionality so you can quickly deliver your next stunning application. Since the engine is separate from the UI, you can use it programmatically to open a spreadsheet file (or create a new one), modify it, and save it.
- A new map control that uses as provider either the Bing map web service (vector, photo tiles, or hybrid) or OpenStreetMap. Like our map controls on other platforms, there’s support for vector drawings on the map (a route, say, or maybe icons for special places). The control also comes with the standard UI elements needed for map manipulation, such as scroll, zoom, coordinate labels, and so on.
- A PDF viewer control (beta release). At long last you can embed a DevExpress control in your app to display PDF files. Text, images, and vector shapes are supported, together with embedded fonts and font styles. The interface for the PDF Viewer implements zooming, scrolling, and a continuous page layout and provides a ready-to-use Ribbon tab, which makes it extremely easy to incorporate a Ribbon bar in your application.
- A Live Tile Manager control. This new control, more than anything else in the list of new functionality for 13.1, exemplifies the title of this post: it binds the investment and code you have in your WinForms desktop apps now to the Windows 8 Start Screen. You can display a live tile on the Start Screen – updating on a regular basis just like all the other tiles there – driven by a WinForms app. Click on the tile, and the WinForms app comes to the forefront. Since only Modern UI apps can place tiles on the Start Screen, there’s just a little hint of some DevExpress magic going on in the background: the Live Tile Manager. This is a Windows AppStore app that can set up a communications channel to a WinForms desktop app and act as a middleman, displaying a tile, updating it according to commands from the desktop app, and switch to the same app when the tile is touched or a clicked.
- And so much more: new editor controls (including sparklines), an icon library with an image picker.
Despite all this work on the WinForms side of things, WPF developers have much to celebrate too.
- A new Banded Grid View. This is the ability to arrange column headers into bands and to create multi-row record layouts. It’s been a part of our WinForms grid for a long while and now it’s available in WPF and Silverlight.
- A new Chart Wizard. A simpler and quick-to-invoke chart wizard. No longer do you have to struggle with the Visual Studio Properties window to configure your charts, just you can use this powerful visual tool instead. It can be invoked in your apps too, so your users can more easily configure their charts. (Added to Silverlight as well.)
- Improvements to the Map control (Silverlight as well) include built-in tooltips, map element selection, data binding, and much more.
- A new Property Grid Control (or vertical grid), just like the properties window in Visual Studio: edit a set of properties displayed as a vertical list with ease.
- And many more enhancements and improvements.
Since we’re talking about XAML controls, at least tangentially, let’s discuss our Windows 8 XAML controls. When we first introduced these, we made them part of DXTREME. After all, they’re for mobile apps, so we reasoned that they should be part of a ‘mobile’ product together with our cross-platform HTML5/JS framework and widgets. Well, nice try, but no cigar: it soon became obvious they just didn’t fit there. So we revamped DXTREME and moved the Windows 8 XAML controls out into their own package. For 13.1, we’ve added a couple of new controls to this collection and made some improvements to the grid.
- The new OneNote-inspired Radial Menu is a radically new way to present a UI that allows the user to make selections or initiate actions: a menu in a circle. Try it, you’ll be amazed at how smooth and easy to use it is.
- A new Flyout Control for displaying a panel that slides in from the sides of the screen.
I’ve talked a lot about the desktop and Windows 8 apps up to now, but that doesn’t mean we’ve neglected the web developers among our customers. With ASP.NET and ASP.NET MVC there is a complete set of new enhancements and functionality
- Endless Paging (also known as continuous scrolling) for touch-centric applications that use the GridView, DataView, NewsControl , and ImageGallery. This is the ability to show the items being displayed as an infinite list, with the control only loading extra items as the user scrolls down. Think of the functionality provided by the Facebook or Twitter apps.
- A new MVC Image Slider, like the existing ASP.NET one.
- A new MVC File Manager based on the ASP.NET version.
- A new MVC Captcha control for those times you need to check that a real human being is entering data into your forms.
- A new ASP.NET Image Gallery control.
- And many more enhancements and improvements. Please see Mehul Harry’s series of blog posts on the new functionality in ASP.NET for 13.1.
At this point, a small diversion into a new product: the Document Server. This is a non-visual .NET Library, built and optimized for C#, VB.NET and ASP.NET developers alike. It allows developers to fully automate Excel and Word without using Microsoft Office automation. Generate XLS, XLSx, DOC, DOCx, RTF, CSV and Snap Report files using a straightforward API that's easy-to-use and ready for the enterprise. The DevExpress Document Server also includes a zip compression library and a barcode generation library.
For the Dashboard, we’re adding an OLAP Server Mode for SQL Server, a new Dashboard theme, and myriad printing enhancements.
Reporting has not been ignored, far from it. Expect to see a Table of Contents report control, a much-anticipated Sparkline control, and there’s a new Report Designer and set of management controls for WinForms. For WPF and Silverlight, we’ve added a new control that provides a ribbon-based report preview. Snap reports have improved too: there’s a new wizard to add a data source; support for nested fields; an API has been published so you can create Snap reports from code; there’s a new ability to edit table cell styles; and we’ve added a new hyperlink data field.
CodeRush doesn’t get off easy either, with some well-designed visual enhancements and some performance improvements across the board. We’ve much improved CodeRush’s support for XAML code; the Smart Tag menu is now populated asynchronously for extra performance; auto-initialization of variables, fields, or properties has been enhanced; CodeRush can now declare local variables implicitly; and there have been significant improvements to the Debug Visualizer and to linked identifiers.
All in all, DevExpress Universal 13.1 is a major release in every sense of the word. It’s out now, so download the release, install, and start using these new features. And above all please don’t forget to let us know your feedback: I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org, and the management team can be reached at email@example.com.