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What's New in the Visual Studio 2005 Toolbox for Windows Applications?

The toolbox for Windows Forms applications was already pretty rich in Visual Studio .NET 2003, but it will be even richer when the next version ships. In this article, I'll take you on a whistle-stop tour of the new controls slated for Windows Forms 2.0 to make writing code more productive and pleasant than ever.

he Visual Studio 2005 toolbox provides new controls in three different areas: Data, UI, and system components. Low-level members of the old data binding architecture are now better encapsulated in new, off-the-shelf components like the DataConnector. Strip controls finally make the appealing user interface of Office 2003 available to all Windows applications. New system components like BackgroundWorker, SerialPort, and SoundPlayer enrich the toolkit and make programming much quicker, easier, and pleasant.

I had all my hair several years ago when VBX components were all the rage in the Visual Basic community. For the youngest of you, I'll say that in the early 90s, VBX components were the first serious attempt to break applications into really reusable bits and pieces. At its core, a VBX component was nothing more than a special kind of dynamic-link library (DLL) with an embedded programming interface that meant a lot (only) to the Visual Basic 3.0 environment.

You could build GUI applications by combining a few VBX components and writing a minimum amount of glue code to put them all together. It was more or less like what you do today in .NET with controls, but it was more than ten years ago and, more importantly, it was a brand new and revolutionary model for Windows applications at the time.

When faced with a new assignment, most developers (myself included) just asked for the URL of a site where we could find a made-to-measure VBX component to have the mission accomplished in a few clicks and keystrokes. It is probably a legacy of those happy years if today many developers judge a new development tool by the number of free components it brings to the table.

Visual Studio 2005 doesn't disappoint from this viewpoint. Its toolbox is significantly rich and, more importantly, the new toolbox addresses loudly requested functions like sexy toolbars, attractive menus, Web-like form layouts, more system components, and an improved model for data binding.

The New Toolbox
Figure 1 shows the Visual Studio 2005 toolbox as it shows up in the Beta 1 build. The toolbox is subdivided in three groups: data access, system components, and user interface elements.

Figure 1: A view of the Visual Studio 2005 toolbox in the Beta 1 build.
The Data block contains data-bound controls (grid and navigator), data containers (DataSet), and a new data connector component to make the binding happen.

The Components block lists some system-level controls with no user interface that provide a declarative programming layer on top of system capabilities such as the shell tray area, background threads, serial port I/O, and file watching.

Finally, the Windows Forms tab contains all visual controls, most of which are already available in Visual Studio .NET 2003. Also in this area, though, there are some interesting new entries like several strip controls, layout controls, dialog boxes, and document hosts.

Let's start with data controls.

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