As I have just been asked to prototype the front end application for the reference architecture that I have recently designed, I was in need of some help.
Here is the thing, I really, really suck at Winforms coding. Give me a web application and I can make a UI that sings and dances, looks pretty, and is a joy to use. Given a Winforms app I struggle to get anything that isn't grey and clunky. My Winforms always look like they were designed in the far reaches of the past.
As the UI is really all that many decision makers see of a prototype, this is where your hard work on an elegant and flexible architecture can fall apart - how many times have you heard people quibbling over the exact layout of the grid during a demo, and being totally disinterested in the miracles of code wizardry you have going on behind the scenes to recover the data.
Fundamentally, if you demo an application - make damn sure the UI looks amazing, because no matter what you think, that is what the people you were showing the application to will remember. I have learned the hard way that all your great coding can be wasted by a poor looking demo, first impressions count.
Well, after a bit of searching, I came across the Krypton Toolkit. This amazing set of controls are visually great, and more importantly for me, they have amazingly good documentation. I'll repeat it, I suck at Winforms coding, so anything that makes my life easier (i.e. good documentation) is a godsend.
Not only do they include help file style documentation, they contain a working example with full source code for every control, and even a mini application that can launch each of the examples without you having to build them yourself. This is how end user documentation should be done.
And the best part is, they are free for use, even for commercial projects. There are two extra controls that do require licences, and you can purchase the source code for the toolkit itself if you like, but use of the Toolkit controls themselves is totally free.
And as a double benefit, I only downloaded and installed these a few days ago, and already there is a new release with some bug fixes. They were far from bug free or perfect, but they basically work and the bugs are irritating rather than show stopping - I'm sure this new release will make major fixes, and the responsiveness of the author to update them so fast is very reassuring.
Now my UI looks something like this (apologies for the blurring out for confidentiality reasons), and is slick and enyoyable to use - thanks Krypton!