Product review: Protoview speeds ActiveX projects

Developing applications using Microsoft's Component Object Model (COM) structures can be technically daunting. Companies that have strategically invested in COM may need to seek third-party tools to help developers meet the challenges of COM development and reduce deployment costs.

One such tool is Protoview's ActiveX Component Suite (ACS) 7.0, which provides a bundled collection of ActiveX components and user-interface widgets to help round out developers' toolboxes.

ACS furnishes interfaces based on Microsoft's Windows Explorer and Outlook. The built-in ACS metaphor includes point-and-click construction and binding of data-driven tables and tree components that can be dropped onto code to enhance Web-based and client/server ActiveX application development.

ACS is the first component suite I have seen that offers updating and synchronisation of hierarchical recordsets through Microsoft's Object Linking and Embedding for Databases/ActiveX Data Objects.

For a modest initial investment, ACS delivers feature-rich components that will speed the development cycle for ActiveX projects of any size with drop-in standardised interfaces and behaviors.

ACS' DataExplorer component offers a quick way to standardise an interface on the Windows Explorer or Outlook metaphor. It allowed me to create a professional-looking interface replete with typical Windows functionality, such as OLE drag-and-drop capability, with minimal coding.

DataExplorer features were easy to customise, and it made simple work of synchronising nodes in the left-hand pane to data-driven forms and ActiveX components in the right-hand pane. Built-in support for Internet Explorer made it possible to associate Web pages to the right-hand pane as well.

ACS' new Resizer component offered great screen-resolution independence for maximum run-time flexibility in my form layouts. With no additional coding, I was able to adjust fonts, positions, and sizes of components with fine granularity.

ACS offers support for the vertical Outlook Component Bar of iconic shortcut groupings expected in the forthcoming Windows 2000. DataExplorer handled event triggering and customised behaviors of the Outlook Component Bar seamlessly and even offered great run-time customisation.

Several enhancements have been made to ACS' DataTable grid components, further facilitating the visual binding of data into spreadsheet-style layouts. Although DataTable made easy work of binding elements to data sources, where it shines is in its support for layout customisation. I was able to quickly build a data table by dragging and dropping columns onto the layout and to add images to text with ease.

Newly added List and ComboBox components offer a replacement for the Microsoft Common Controls in Visual Studio that requires no code. I dropped an ACS ComboBox into an existing table and bound it to a data source in minutes.

The DataTable supplies superb virtual-memory management capabilities, a solid sorting implementation, and a rich feature set, making it one of my favorite tools for creating data-driven interfaces.

The TreeViewX component is the easiest way I have seen to bind hierarchical tree layouts to back-end data sources. I built my tree in minutes using point-and-click definition of properties.

ACS components are built from lightweight, Active Template Library components, a sophisticated treatment of COM that eliminates DLL dependencies and provides components that are well suited to distributed applications and Internet deployment. This will help eliminate many DLL problems that have plagued developers for years.

Protoview now offers subscription licensing, supplying developers with new releases and incremental patches free of charge. Given the frequency of recent ACS updates (two or three per year), this might prove the most cost-effective licensing approach.

Protoview offers solid tools for building ActiveX-based graphical interfaces, as well as back-end components, at an affordable price and with a minimal learning curve. Organisations that are strategically leveraging ActiveX as part of their application framework should take a close look.

James R. Borck (james.borck@industrialart.com) is IS director at Industrial Art & Science, in Connecticut.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

ActiveX Component Suite 7.0

Summary: This easy-to-use suite bundles out-of-the-box tools that speed construction of browser-based and client/server applications for ActiveX-aware environments.

Business Case: Low initial investment and a minimal learning period provide an immediate return on investment through improved developer productivity and streamlined project time lines.

Pros:

+ Easy to learn and use

+ Flexible, customizable toolset

+ Improves developer productivity

+ Enhanced recordset-manipulation capabilitiesCons:

- Problematic Windows 95 help system

- Requires external development environment- Limited platform supportCost: Standard, $US695; update subscription, $995; Enterprise, $1,495; upgrade pricing from $259Platform(s): Windows 95/98, Windows NTProtoview Development Corp., Cranbury, New Jersey; +1-800-231-8588; http://www.protoview.com

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