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One of my favorite magazines about Visual Studio .NET at the moment is Fawcette's Visual Studio Magazine, a monthly publication with a definite and decided focus on Visual Studio in general, and .NET stuff in particular.
The May 2003 issue of the magazine features a story entitled "Build .NET Apps Visually," that provides a high-level review of SoftWIRE 4, a completely visual programming tool that integrates deeply with Visual Studio .NET and that can create either VB.NET or VC++ .NET applications. In fact, it was an interesting enough tool that I hopped over to the company Web site (www.softwire.com) and looked over the rest of its offerings. That's where I found some real pay dirt, and the subject of this tip: Softwire sells a full license to its collection of 70 SoftWIRE Controls (built using SoftWIRE 4, not coincidentally). Better still, the company offers a reasonably comprehensive collection of VB.NET and VC++ .NET code samples that illustrates exactly how to use these components making it trivial to cu and paste to put these babies to work.
For $199, developers can license an interesting and useful collection of VS.NET components and controls that fall into nine categories:
- Active Directory Service Components: a collection of six ADSI (Active Directory Services Interface) widgets that support tree views and searches, as well as the ability to create, read, write and move Active Directory entries (objects and properties).
- File Management Components: three widgets to copy, delete and move files.
- Serial I/O Components: four widgets to open and close serialized connections, and to use them to output or input data.
- Math Components: a general purpose formula component that supports basic arithmetic, logical and bitwise operations, trigonometric functions, logarithmic functions, exponential functions and various rounding operations, and a histogram component that provides various ways to sort and analyze collections of numeric data.
- GUI Controls (a personal favorite): a collection of widgets to represent strip charts, LEDs, Toggle Switches, Knobs, Analog Meters, Bar Meters, Slider controls, XY graphs, Bar Charts, and masked edit displays for text, numbers, or date/time values.
- Network and Web Components: Web service access tools, browser functions, "Web scraper" (reads data from a specific section of an incoming Web page), e-mail sending tool, plus TCP/IP broadcast send and receive capability.
- Excel Components: support read and write operations between applications and Excel spreadsheet files.
- LEGO Components: interact with the LEGO Mindstorms Robotic Command System RCX units to link PCs and RCX units via infrared connections; provides all kinds of detailed device controls over motion, sensors, displays and diagnostics.
- Database Components (another personal favorite): a veritable plethora (30) of controls and components to open, read, write, delete, close, handle transactions, process queries and do all kinds of neat things with databases from within VS.NET applications.
Although you might be able to find some, if not most, of these functions available through various freeware and shareware sites, the quality of the code (and its exception-handling capabilities) is such that those looking for commercial grade VS.NET widgets might just want to look a little closer. There's a lot of potential for saving labor and increasing productivity in this wonderful collection of sometimes whacky but generally useful widgets.
Ed Tittel is a principal at LANWrights, Inc. a wholly-owned subsidiary of iLearning.com, where he writes and teaches on a variety of subjects, including markup languages, development tools and IT certifications. Contact Ed via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This was first published in April 2003