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Component Vendors (Rant!)

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  • User profile image
    irascian

    I've mentioned this before when asking folks what components they'd recommend but am now heavily into a project that is reliant on a vendor's components for it to work. The client chose this particular vendor after "evaluating" a number of companies before I came onboard - time is short and he who has the prettiest controls  seems to win apparently.

    We just had our first "lessons learnt" after delivering our first project build way later than planned and, to quote one of our team, most of our delays have been judged to be down to using UI controls that are "cumbersome, slow, difficult to use and come with documentation that is profuse but largely inappropriate, with priority support that is slow to say the least".

    24-hour turnaround aka Priority Support seems to actually translate as "I'll respond to your question with another one and we'll see how often we can go around this loop. How does that sound?"

    All that criticism's before I do a "View Source" in my browser and raise my eyes in horror at the total gunk, debris and sheer volume of crap that's polluting my Notepad window as a result of using these controls. How these guys (and I hate to single them out by naming them because I suspect they really ARE the best of a bad bunch) have the cheek to put up a web site boasting their WCAG compliance is beyond me. Needless to say their own web site is incredibly slow and the first demo page I look at on their site doesn't work in IE6 (but does in Firefox) which is not much use when we're using the same control and need to support IE6 and IE7.  

    These third party controls MIGHT look pretty but it's like varnish on a turd so far as I'm concerned.

    What particularly galls me is that I spent over a grand of my own money on these same controls having heard they were "the best in the business" and wanting to prepare for the contract I've taken up. Seems to me this is a business that desperately needs shaking up - at least where the ASP.NET side of things is concerned anyway.

    I hear "new kid on the block" (?) Telerik have some cool stuff, but am told it's buggy as hell and it's bad enough having to apply fixes to my own code for months after deployment without having to do it with something I bought in to do a simple job. I've already tried Component One and wasn't impressed by the fact it cost more than the controls themselves to get printed documentation, which when it turned up referred to a version of controls that was a couple of years out of date, which meant in this "new version every week" world we live in it was, of course, completely obsolete.

    Is this the state the market is in? Kind of "all the components are crap but we'll keep handing over money because well ... that's what we do, and after all there's no real competition. Besides we'd have no printed magazines or .Net Rocks or convention support if they weren't around redistributing the huge amounts of money we keep handing over to them".

    Over the weekend I installed Community Server 2007. Very slick until you try and edit some content as an administrator. I managed to totally screw up the home page sidebar on the demo site they ship within minutes. In the preview pane of the content editor it looks great every time but when published the font size gets bigger... and bigger... and bigger so that after five changes only a single letter will fit on each line. Bet I know who's to blame (clue not a Telligent developer, more likely a bought-in component). Don't you just love user interfaces that show you as an end-user everything will be fine and then screws everything up. (For the record I spent a couple of hours tearing apart the HTML and tidying it up and the problem's now fixed, but that's not really the point - Do Telligent really expect their "administrators" to understand their internal CSS structure and HTML design when doing something as simple as copying in some new links? Lousy components = lousy product experience = lousy sales, and that's bad news for all of us in the industry).

    I don't need bells and whistles like silly guages and sliding nav bars that mimick some obscure part of Windows Control Panel or Outlook, but in a web browser. I need controls that generate lightweight efficient HTML that don't mysteriously distort the screen and have things shifting around the second I put a mouse anywhere near them. I need controls that don't need a Core 2 Duo machine running with CPU and memory utilisation more applicable to a super-computer to render them and a wait time of several seconds built in. I need a datagrid that lets me "drop" my pretty simple custom drop down listbox control in it in design mode without documentation referring to the need to implement obscure vendor-specific interfaces which aren't where the sentence in the endless pages of documentations says it is (and which priority support then advise is somewhere else and doesn't need documentation because there are some samples around that demonstrate this, before going on to add that they're "not supported")

    After the XCeed (new company to me) WPF datagrid fiasco "It's free for life! Please use it". Beat. "It's really free for life. Go on use it in your app. You know you want to.". Beat. "You want the latest version with the new features and bug fixes? - ahhhhh! That's the new professional version. That costs" (Lots if you're looking at per desktop licensing) I'm beginning to wonder if component vendors aren't all just second hand car salesmen in disguise, but even my heroes like Scott Hanselman are singing their praises from every blog post he can muster so obviously I've got it all wrong??!!!

    WPF and Windows forms controls aside, has anybody got a solid, strong story to tell about ANY ASP.NET controls vendor that will restore my faith in not getting ripped off?

    Current project aside (we're going back to the basic "out of the box" controls mixed in with our own composites where we can - life's too short to keep applying endless vendor "Hotfixes" and workarounds and understanding obscure, over-engineered architectures that the vendors themselves are rushing to throw away as the latest new Silverlight toy gets rushed to blogland) I feel I've given these shysters far too much of my money for precious little of real value already.

    Someone, somewhere, please tell me that they've had a good experience with such vendors and their shoddy wares! I want to believe, I really do!

  • User profile image
    blowdart

    irascian wrote:

    After the XCeed (new company to me) WPF datagrid fiasco "It's free for life! Please use it". Beat. "It's really free for life. Go on use it in your app. You know you want to.". Beat. "You want the latest version with the new features and bug fixes? - ahhhhh! That's the new professional version. That costs" (Lots if you're looking at per desktop licensing).


    Worrying, as I know MS use some of the XCeed components in house.

  • User profile image
    irascian

    blowdart wrote:
    
    irascian wrote:

    After the XCeed (new company to me) WPF datagrid fiasco "It's free for life! Please use it". Beat. "It's really free for life. Go on use it in your app. You know you want to.". Beat. "You want the latest version with the new features and bug fixes? - ahhhhh! That's the new professional version. That costs" (Lots if you're looking at per desktop licensing).


    Worrying, as I know MS use some of the XCeed components in house.


    Well to be honest I think updates are free so in theory bug fixes should be too, but when you suddenly introduce a "new" improved version of the control that has high licensing costs through a "$500 per desktop user" subscription I have to question what the word "free" actually means in terms of how bugs are prioritised and how they impact the "branched" product.

  • User profile image
    ZippyV

    Which web-control company are we talking about?

  • User profile image
    eagle

    Infragistics?

    Telligent hired a guy to build custom controls two years ago.

    Telerik paid for the pizza at our last UG meeting, nice t-shirts.

  • User profile image
    Yggdrasil

    I know how you feel. I've never been really satisfied with any 3rd-party controls I've used, whether Win or Web. Janus, Infragistics, DevExpress (*shudder*). It's not that they were all unusably bad, but they all had serious flaws.
    The reason they can get away with it, IMO, is that writing UI controls is hell. Really. At first you have that "Sure, I can write my own custom control. No worries. Just a day or two.". And then you find a couple more edge cases, and then a few more places where you need some ugly hack because of a special circumstances, and then you find that you've wasted over a week just debugging mouse-hover behaviours, and then you give it to QA and they use it completely differently, and then you need to add 508 compliance. And suddenly a 2-day control turns into a 2-month project, and it looks like cr@p, and has half the functionality, and you ask yourself why you didn't buy a 3rd-party component in the first place.

    So the reasons these components are so annoying are:
    1) It's really, really hard to write totally generic UI controls.
    2) It's still easier than writing your own components, so they can get away with shoddy work.

  • User profile image
    Odi

    Irascian,

    Xceed DataGrid for WPF remains free. We have released 2 major updates to it over the course of the year, both which included a bunch of free new features, some big ones, some small ones. There have been 4 bug fix updates so far this year, each with a nice list of bug fixes. We have provided all this to all customers (of the free version) at no charge, as promissed. The competition's pay-only grid has had 0 major updates this year. We're working hard on the product.

    Why do you claim that all of a sudden the control is not free anymore? ...and use terminology like "fiasco", when the general feedback on our forums is that we're doing it right?

    There is no "branched version", by the way, just one single control. So we cannot (and wouldn't even try) to provide bug fixes only to some users, but not others.

    To add to the discussion, think of the missing data grid in WPF.

    For v1.0, released in January, the hours spent creating Xceed DataGrid for WPF racked up easily past 10K. Moreover, the team's size has increased since the days we started the project, and while I don't have the numbers yet, I estimate this number could have doubled by now.

    Some of those hours were spent working on optional features that will provide Xceed with some return on investment. Features available only as an upgrade. Features that you can completely ignore if you want to, they aren't essential, and either way, they never (historically) would have been included by Microsoft in a built-in data grid. Mainly, they are:

    - Rich printing and exporting capabilities
    - Fixed columns
    - Statistics functions

    Does the existence of these options mean the control is not free anymore all of a sudden, and that it doesn't "fill in the gap left by Microsoft" all while still being free?

    I wonder if you agree that the free Xceed DataGrid for WPF offers a lot of value, more than the competition's pay-only grid? And how about versus an eventual (as yet completely unnanounced) free built-in Microsoft data grid for WPF?

    With the eventual built-in Datagrid, historically speaking, you don't even get grouping functionality. That was a major undertaking for us, especially to get virtualization working with it. Also, remember the improved Windows Forms grid control introduced in .NET 2.0? A completely new control you had to learn and reimplement just to get some improvements. We never had to do that, with the large amount of time spent creating a good object model right up front. And don't expect 4-5 updates a year from Microsoft, but rather, one every couple of years on average. Support? A couple hundred $ a call. An upgrade path to obtain advanced features such as rich printing, master/detail, etc? Not a chance, let alone being able to turn them on by just switching a license key from the free one to a paid one. Availability of source code? Not historically.

    I could go on.

    I just don't get it. Why do you say the control is not free, when all the features most of the market wants, or at least expects to be in WPF, are given away, bug fixes are free and frequent, and there's nothing important missing to force you to buy the advanced features subscription?

  • User profile image
    W3bbo

    irascian wrote:
    I've mentioned this before when asking folks what components they'd recommend but am now heavily into a project that is reliant on a vendor's components for it to work. The client chose this particular vendor after "evaluating" a number of companies before I came onboard - time is short and he who has the prettiest controls  seems to win apparently.


    When shopping for controls, I don't look at how well they've got custom-skinning done, I want controls that do it by the book and nothing more.

    Y'know, stuff that follows the Windows GUI guidelines, looks good and "native" in both Classic and when using Visual Styles, supports different DPI settings, double-buffered, etc...

    Any personal recomendations?

  • User profile image
    irascian

    Call me cynical but I think there's a world of difference between announcing a "free for life" grid control and then suddenly with no prior warning "Ah these new features have been added but you have to pay $500 a customer seat for it" (albeit with discounts available dependent on the number of seats ordered). We strongly recommend you take out a Vanguard subscription" (which is not cheap at all compared to competitors).

    I'm not a WPF developer at the moment. I haven't written apps that are totally reliant on your "free for life" datagrid, so it's no skin off my nose. And I'd like to believe that there is really "no difference" between the two controls and that there IS such a thing as a free lunch, but if that's the case why the huge price difference between the two versions of the control?

    Bottom line: I think I'm right to be suspicious of ANY component vendor given my experience to date, and this "it's free... use it. It's free... use it. It's free... but by the way we've now decided we're going to have two versions and you should really look at buying a Vanguard subscription for full support" is what brought the word "fiasco" if not "mendacious" to mind. You're right though "fiasco" was probably a bit harsh. It's marketing pure and simple - albeit marketing of the kind I abhor.



     

  • User profile image
    Odi

    Well, it wasn't suddenly, actually, only a few months after we released the first version, we released v1.1 which started the ball rolling on optional features and priority support. This latest v1.2 release just added two more pay-only features. Furthermore, right next to where it says "Free", we put a link to the Licensing FAQ, who'se first question & answer is the following, and I believe this message was the original up-front message since day one:

    Q. Will this product always remain free? Will I ever be forced to pay for an upgrade?

    A. At some point in the future, for new users, the product may someday no longer be licensed for free. However, if you register before that happens, it will always remain free for you. By registering now, we will treat you as if you purchased a paid license for the product. You will receive a registered license key which will continue to work in new versions, so you can benefit from bug fixes and even some of the many new features we're working on.

    This isn't hidden away somewhere, it has always been up front (I just checked archive.org to be sure), and for half the product's life (the past 4 months) we have also put, right up front, this message and similar ones, to promote the advanced updates:

    "Professional-level support and advanced updates available with Vanguard subscription"

    And, as far as saying that "it is not cheap at all compared to competitors", currently, it is. The competing WPF offering's "product + 1 year subscription" is in fact close to double the $500 price of Xceed DataGrid for WPF's product + 1 year subscription.

    Odi

  • User profile image
    TommyCarlier

    I'd like to say I'm very happy with Xceed components. We've been using it for a few years now and I can say that Xceed always provided good quality and good support. The main component we've used is the Xceed GridControl (for Windows Forms). It's fast, has a lot of features and is very extensible. Their compression and ZIP components are also worth mentioning. Fast, good compression, innovative design (a virtual filesystem abstraction). My boss is not really a fan of using external components from vendors, because you become dependent on the vendor, but currently we're using components from Xceed and Component Factory (the Krypton Toolkit and Navigator). I can really recommend both.

  • User profile image
    irascian

    Odi wrote:
    

    And, as far as saying that "it is not cheap at all compared to competitors", currently, it is. The competing WPF offering's "product + 1 year subscription" is in fact close to double the $500 price of Xceed DataGrid for WPF's product + 1 year subscription.

    Odi


    My apologies. To be honest I had to buy an ASP.NET/WinForms component suite from a vendor who effectively then gave away their WPF controls for free. I guess it boils down to what bundles you already have/need as to what the "additional" costs are.

    To get back to the point of the original post, my perception is that none of the vendors do a bad job of WinForms controls (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong - I work almost exclusively in the ASP.NET space) but conversely none of them do a good job in the ASP.NET space.

    This is my third post on the subject in about 3 years and each time all I seem to effectively get is "Yes. They're all bad". Like I said in my original post "I want to believe" there are some quality solid ASP.NET controls out there. Peter Bluhm's controls aside (they focus on validation controls only) the story seems to be - there aren't any!

  • User profile image
    JPeless

    I agree with Ian that the ASP.NET controls are lacking in the toolset I use compared with WinForms (they definitely put out lots of code to transmit via HTTP).

    I am hopeful that Project Aikido from Infragistics (basically a rewrite/revamp) for ASP.NET controls will yield a good result.  And I hope that they include the new project in the NetAdvantage toolset because we have been customers for a while (4 or so years).

  • User profile image
    Bluelaser

    Ian-

    I must say your experience seems extreme. I have used Telerik's components in countless projects and they have saved my company hundreds (at least) of development hours. There is a reason experienced developers like Scott Hanselman sing the praises of components- in general they save a project lots of time if the project needs an advanced web-based UI (more on the if in a moment).

    I like to think of using components like this: if I'm not in the business of making UI controls, spending development hours to build advanced UIs is not adding any value to the code my business makes money on. My company should be spending the majority of its time on building the application's business logic and not testing an Ajax implementation in 10 different browsers on 3 platforms just to get the basic plumbing correct. It would cost way more to do that work internally from scratch than to pay for tested, supported, and advanced controls once.

    That said, sometimes you don't need the advanced functionality of components. If you need simple HTML and no advanced features, you're probably better off using "standard" controls that render minimal markup. You have to be smart about when you need the extra rich functionality in the browser.

    Some people say they don't like components because they like to have complete control over the code that renders to the page. They prefer to build everything from scratch. That's like saying if I build house, I don't want to use any pre-made parts (like windows, doors, etc.). You can build everything from scratch, but it's going to take longer, it's only going to work in that single house, it's going to be harder to fix down the road, and it's going to be much more expensive. The same is true for components.

    Not all component vendors are created equal, though. If you do your homework, you'll find some do a much better job of rendering clean semantic HTML and providing very efficient support. Telerik is definitely in that camp and if you're looking for a good component experience I'd definitely send you that way. Just check out their forums to get a good idea of what developers think of the company.

    Components aren't perfect (what code is?), but generally they save you time and money and enable features that would otherwise be impossible. Hope that helps restore some of your faith in components.

    -Michael

  • User profile image
    irascian

    Thanks for the reply. I wasn't involved in the original evaluation but from what I gather the current vendor was chosen for their seemingly complete documentation, availability of source code and 24-hour turnaround premier support.

    I totally take on board your comments about the advantages of components and of course I'm not arguing against them if they're robust and reliable, as many WinForms components apparently are. But in the ASP.NET world things seem very different, and if the "learning curve/getting basic bugs fixed" issues we've experienced are typical many of those so-called advantages (productivity, quicker time to market) simply disappear and can actually become negatives.

    Telerik were apparenty considered in the original evaluation. I assume they lost out on the "documentation" or perhaps "premiere support" issue, but the team lead who made the original decision isn't around for me to ask him.

    I must say that the "Chinese whispers" I've heard around Telerik controls go along the line of "bleeding edge" with all the negatives that can imply usually added on (buggy, rushed to market too fast). Guess I need to invest some time in having a look at them to see if your endorsement rings true for us.

    Ian

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