Saturday, December 23, 2006

chart 3.0 review

One of the controls that received a major overhaul in the Q4 2006 is r.a.d.chart, telerik's long ignored and relatively basic charting component. The Q4 release did little to add functionality to chart (there are still no 3D charts or chart integration with AJAX), but it did radically change chart's design-time experience. If you have ever used chart before, you know that designing a chart in Visual Studio is a long, frustrating cycle of guess-and-check coding. That all changes in Q4. The new chart design-time experience Version 3.0 of chart introduces a new WYSIWYG Visual Studio designer that makes designing a new r.a.d.chart as easy as designing a Microsoft Office chart. When you drop a chart control on your page, you get a Visual Studio SmartTag to set some of your chart's properties AND you get a full, multi-step wizard that you can also use to set 95% of your chart's properties. On top of that, all of the changes you make with the SmartTag or Wizard are applied in real-time to the chart on your page. That's right: No more guessing. You can adjust settings to your hearts content and in real-time see how those settings affect your chart in the Visual Studio design view. The new design-time experience is so vast, I decided pictures would do a much better job of telling the full story. Check out my screenshot gallery to see chart 3.0 in action. My only complaint is that the wizard has so many settings it can be overwhelming. The wizard reminds me of the r.a.d.controls for WinForms configuration dialogs (which have TONS of settings), and I think telerik will eventually need to find a more balanced ground between offering "magical" wizards and wizards that allow you to tweak every chart property. Not a big deal, though. the "gotchas" No update this large can be made without a few lingering issues, and in my early use I found a couple of things that you'll need watch for in your own projects. First, if you use the Chart Wizard to layout your chart, try visiting the Auto Format tab before you go through each wizard step customizing layout items. If you select an Auto Format after you've made a number of customizations, your changes will be overridden by the auto styles. In my opinion, the Auto Format tab should be presented earlier in the wizard so you can pick a style before you begin your customizations. Also, you'll need to watch the formatting of the axis labels. For some reason, the labels don't seem to inherit the styles of your format correctly and are rendered in a default black Times font. This is obvious in the Visual Studio designer, so just make sure you manually set the styles for these items if you display them. Finally, (and this is more of a FYI than a gotcha) make sure your chart looks correct in Visual Studio before publishing your project. Your chart will render in the browser exactly as it looks in Visual Studio, so if you see labels that are illegible in Visual Studio they will also be illegible in the browser. This is a nice behavior because it makes it very easy to tell of you chart settings are well formed before you publish your project to a browser. conclusion The new designer for chart is very impressive and finally makes chart a "r.a.d." control. I really can't express how exciting these changes are for chart. If you've had a bad experience with chart in the past, now is the time to give it another try. If you don't believe me, check the full screenshot gallery I've created showing off the new designers while you download the latest release. But believe me, you'll want chart 3.0!