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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