R.A.D. PanelBar is custom ASP.NET component that allows you to add professional navigation capabilities to your web application or website. It can be compared to the panel bar in Microsoft Outlook. Web pages are grouped into different categories. Initial you only see a listing of all categories. However, you can expand the categories by clicking on them, to display the items in the menu.
The first thing that draws attention while using the control, is the easiness the component can be added to your website. You do not have to rewrite anything or modify any code. After installation, copy the .dll to the bin folder of your application, add it to the references of your project, and drag it onto the webform you want. It’s as simple as that. Many controls promise this, but few actually manage to realise this too.
The control uses an external XML file that contains the structure description of the menu. The location of this XML file is the only property that is required before you can use this control. Modifications to this XML file do not require a recompilation of your project. Website navigation is reduced to simple modifications to the XML source file. This allows easy updates or modifications to the structure of your website. This is a great advantage over hard coded website navigation systems. Your luck doesn’t run out. The control even supports cross-frame navigation. Put the control in the left frame, and make it refresh the pane on the right. This option is very interesting, and many controls do not support it. This really speeds up page generation at server side, and reduces page sizes.
The control has basic multilanguage support. You have to create an XML file for every language, containing the menu resources for that language. Some coding skills are required to switch the language. The only disadvantage this system has is that caching is not really optimized in this case. If you have a lot of users on your site, using the menu in a different language, the system will need to perform multiple IO operations to read all XML files. However, this cannot be considered as a real issue for most sites.
Another positive issue is cross-browser support. The control supports Internet Explorer (5.0+) and Netscape (6.0+). I tested the control with Opera 7.11, and everything worked perfectly ! Beware, you have to enable your cookies to use the control.
To allow best possible integration of the control in your website layout, you can use stylesheets to modify the different menu items. New is the use of templates. A template can be considered as a skin you want to give to the control, using stylesheets and images. Although real skinning is not possible (you are restricted to the provided templates), you can integrate the menu with all possible website layouts you can imagine. Yes, you are restricted to the provided templates. However, the diversity of the templates is large enough to enable even the less artistic genius to pick the template he likes most, and modify it using custom stylesheets and a image manipulation tool (Photoshop, Fireworks, … ), until it pleases him.
Another new feature, and rather unique in its kind, is the possibility to create multilevel panel bars. Until now you were restricted to 2 levels : a menu header containing a number of items. There were no real restrictions on the number of headers and items, but you could not add any subitems to an item. This restriction is now history. You can create an unlimited number of levels. This allows you to combine the visual advantages of a panelbar with the complexity of a webbased menu.
Developers using a previous version of the control might experience some difficulties while migrating to this new version. The new version does not only add new features, but naming conventions used in the API have changed. Furthermore, the XML file has some new elements that are not backward compatible. The easiest way to upgrade, is to rewrite the XML files from scratch, using the elements as described in the help. This approach might save you a headache. It will cost you some extra time, but the result is really worth it !
It's positive points are:
- Very easy to use and install
- Cross browser support
- Content from XML string (full version only)
- Cross frame support
- Royalty-free licensing
- Nearly 100% customizable interface and behaviour.
- Support for multiple level panelbars
The negative aspects are:
- Migration from a previous version is not very easy
If you’re interested in this control, you can download a free version (read free, not trial) from the website. However, this version has limited possibilities, but offers more then enough to allow you to test the control.
The full blown version will cost you $95, what is very cheap for a powerful navigation control. The full source code is available with the enterprise version and will cost you $895.