As the IT Manager/SQL DBA and programmer for a small non-profit I am constantly looking for ways to help our staff do their work more efficiently. Our staff has to be able to easily access data on each of our students at any time during the day.

To help do that I designed a front-end for a newly created SQL Server database using Visual Basic. This initial project used standard VB components and was difficult to use and to code.

In addition, I wanted to be able to use masks for user input as well as limit choices using drop-down boxes whenever possible. As anyone who has ever used just the standard components knows this was not always the easiest task. At a previous job, I had the pleasure of using DevExpress ActiveX components; especially the Grid component and it made my job much easier. So when I decided to redesign our database front-end to take advantage of features in VB.NET, I took a look around to see what was on the market. I went back to DevExpress and decided to give their DevExpress.NET (now DXperience) components a try. I decided to lay out a couple of screens to see how they worked and I was amazed at not only how easy the components were to use but also how good they looked in use.

Take a look at the two screen shots and you can see what a difference the components make.

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Screenshot 1. UI built with standard components.

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Screenshot 2. UI built with Developer Express components.

In addition to employing the Office 2003 look and feel, users can customize the program to suit them. Dropdown controls can show multiple columns which make it extremely easy to give users additional info needed as they look at or enter data. The LookUpEdit Control is extremely versatile and allows the developer to quickly provide the user with descriptive data they need to get their job done.

One of the biggest helps is the XtraGrid component. Using the XtraGrid, user can sort, filter and group the data in many different ways. All without any real additional coding!

In addition, the grid allows you to connect any of the DevExpress editors to the columns in the grid, using LookUpEditors in the grid allow you to be sure, that users enter only the data that should be in any given column. Adding an editor is as easy as making a few mouse clicks. The customization options are extensive allowing me to fit the grid to the data instead of the other way around.

Add in the printing and exporting capabilities of the grid component and you will save hours of coding time. The reporting system has also been a great help. As a non-profit we have to report on our program activities to many different groups and a great deal of my time was spent preparing reports. Using the XtraGrid and the report components users are now able to pull out much of the date they need at any given time, without my help.

In testing the DevExpress components I found I was not only saving time but providing a much easier and enjoyable experience for my users. The users that tested the new interface were extremely happy. They thought the new interface was easy to use and being the individualists that they are they enjoyed customizing the look to suit their own style.

Kevin White