Top 10 Controls for ASP.NET Developers

Introduction

Recently I was asked to provide a top 10 list of ASP.NET controls. When I first started thinking about how in the world I was going to narrow down all of the available ASP.NET controls, I must admit, I was a bit overwhelmed. I decided my first step was to decide what types of controls needed to be on the list, so I narrowed it down to the essentials. That is, controls that ASP.NET developers are most likely to need for the average development project like navigation menus and ASP.NET AJAX.

My next criteria to narrow my focus was to look at each type of control by excluding everything free. Not only did this narrow down the field, it also made it likely that everything I considered would work out of the box and have adequate documentation and support. From there I took in to consideration everything that you would expect like features, ease of development, documentation, support, ease of deployment, ASP.NET version compatibility, and even price.

And the Winners Are

1. AJAX

This is kind of a weird one. Most of the major third party controls are AJAX enabled already. What I was looking for here was a way to AJAXify any page whether it be with standard ASP.NET controls or third party controls. It turns out there is really only one good option here RadAjax for ASP.NET AJAX.

2. Menu

Of all the basic controls that you could ever need for your ASP.NET website, menus undoubtedly top the list. I had three major considerations when reviewing menu controls. First, it needs to be easily styled using CSS. Second, it has to have the ability to be databound. Lastly, it has to be search engine friendly. Unfortunately, there were three controls that met my criteria and have virtually identical features. So, ladies and gentlemen, we have a three way tie between the ComponentOne Menu Control, DevExpress ASPxMenu, and RadMenu for ASP.NET AJAX.

3. Sitemap

Let's face it, every site needs a sitemap these days in order to be search engine friendly. Now, you can always use the built-in ASP.NET sitemap features However, they are a bit cumbersome to use, especially if you have a large number of pages. What I was mainly looking for was a way to improve the standard page- full-of-links look while maintaining a search engine friendly structure. I must say that when I went searching for a winner I was surprised that sitemap controls were few and far between. Because of their slightly easier development the winner in this category is RadSiteMap for ASP.NET AJAX. However, the DevExpress ASPxSiteMapControl was a close second.

4. Tab Strip

If you want a truly rich and intuitive UI you have probably used or looked into tab controls. For the most part, tab controls consist of the tab control itself that displays the tabs and handles clicks, a container for handling the different panels that correspond to the tabs, and page view panels that contain the actual content for each tab. Since most tab strip controls function basically the same way I wanted a control that was AJAX enabled, easy to develop, and easy to style. Again, this one was close between Telerik, and DevExpress. They both have similar features like hierarchical tabs, scrolling, databinding, etc. However, I gave the nod to RadTabStrip for ASP.NET AJAX because of their EntityDataSource and LinqDataSource options.

5. Graphs & Charts

Charts and graphs are very popular among ASP.NET control suites. Everyone has them and they all have the same basic functionality. However, there is one chart & graph package that I have found to be more complete than the rest, Dundas Chart for .NET. This package has everything you need to make beautiful charts and graphs. It has more chart types than you will probably ever use including pie charts, bar graphs and even animated graphs. This, however, is a stand-alone software package. Unlike most of the other winners on our list this one is not part of a suite. Dundas only makes a few specialized controls for.NET, so what they do offer is very focused and complete. If you don't use charts and graphs that much in your development or you just don't want to shell out the cash for a stand-alone control package then both DevExpress and Telerik also have excellent chart and graph controls in their suites.

6. Scheduler

Another close one here between DevExpress and Telerik. Notice a trend? The nod for this one goes to the DevExpress ASPxScheduler Suite. While the features and style options are virtually identical, better performance and ease of development gave the edge to DevExpress.

7. Editor

This is for sites that need any kind of web-enabled content editing. Here I like the RadEditor for ASP.NET AJAX. The control is intuitive and feature rich. Deployment is as simple as drag and drop. It has excellent spell checking capability as well as customizable toolbars. It is an all- around good editor that is versatile enough to apply to a broad range of situations.

8. Data Grids

Control developers have been looking for way to improve the data grid ever since ASP.NET was first released. It has become a cornerstone for ASP.NET development and probably carries more weight when considering controls than all the others. Based on features, performance and ease of development the winner is the DevExpress ASPxGridView with Editors Suite hands down.

9. Reporting

This was an interesting one. I'd venture to say that just about everyone that reads this article does not have any great love for creating reports. Therefore, I gave a lot of consideration to ease of development, just out of shear sympathy for anyone that has to develop reports. Ease of development coupled with the fact that reporting is a separate suite with Telerik gave the win to the DevExpress XtraReports Suite.

10. Input

This one is kind of unique in that it encompasses multiple controls like input boxes, combo boxes, list boxes, date pickers, color pickers, sliders, etc. Since all controls that fit in this category are almost feature identical, it came down to pretty much just a numbers game. That means that RadControls for ASP.NET AJAX gets the win.

Conclusion

You should know that all of the four major players in third party ASP.NET controls industry, ComponentOne, DevExpress, Infragistics, and Telerik, all sell their controls in suites. If you are looking for products for sale individually, DevExpress is the only company that offers a broad range of licensing options. Since purchasing a suite is what you will most likely be faced with I thought it might be helpful to provide an overall winner. Therefore, based on how each company performed in our list, the overall number and relevance of controls in their suites, documentation, support, and the price; Telerik wins the overall award for Best Suite... Barely. My hope is that this top 10 list helps you make an informed decision on what controls to purchase. As with any informed decision, I suggest you download and try each of the big four suites for yourself or at least the top 2, DevExpress and Telerik. They all have downloadable trial versions.



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