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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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!