|The Definitive Guide to the Compact Framework|
|author||Dan Fergus & Larry Roof|
|summary||This article reviews Dan and Larry's new book on the Compact Framework (SP) with the .NET Compact Framework (.NETcf). This book is the longest in terms of content on the Compact Framework to Date|
The authors made Chapter 1 as interesting as the beginning of a computer book is going to get. The two best parts in the introduction, IMHO, are the discussions of the differences between eVB (eMbedded Visual Basic) and the Compact Framework as well as the differences between the full framework and the CF.
Chapter 2 is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak, and walks you through getting started and a Hello, World application. This is where the authors' attention to detail really becomes obvious. Instead of a standard such program that simply pops up a MessageBox displaying "Hello, World," the authors come up with a cool sample that gives you a good introduction to CF programming.
Chapter 3 talks about designing interfaces. Typically, a lot of developers may take this for granted (have you ever met a developer that didn't think they were a UI Expert?), but there is limited real estate on a PDA, and I think Larry's guidelines are excellent.
Chapter 4 is probably best described as "The last guide to CF controls that you'll ever need." It's packed with examples on how to use everything in the toolbox, and you can tell the authors really put some thought into coming up with interesting and useful examples. While experienced developers will certainly find this chapter helpful, beginning developers would be well advised to buy the whole book even if this were the only chapter. Although I really liked this chapter, the authors sort of skimped on one important area here, but it's not a big deal: If you want to write custom controls and have them placed in the Visual Studio designer, you have to jump through a few hoops. The authors tell you what these hoops are, but don't tell you how to jump through them. In all fairness though, if they covered everything to the level of detail this subject entails, the book would be 20,000 pages and take years to write.
Not every control that you have in your toolbox on the desktop is available here, and if you want to spice up your UI, you'll probably want to roll your own controls. Chapter 5 builds on the topic of custom controls, and delves into building your own. The next two chapters still concentrate on UI issues, mainly menu items and drawing your own graphics. If you intend to write your own control or do anything interesting with your interface, getting familiar with the graphics library is a must.
After discussing the UI, the authors veer off into the CF File System. By its very nature, the PDA has a different file system than the desktop, and is something that many new developers have a fair amount of headaches with. Roof and Fergus show you how to move around files and directories, and how to create a text file or binary. The first time I read the chapter, I was disappointed that XML wasn't discussed when writing files, but there's good reason for this; they dedicated an entire Chapter to XML later on.
With the UI and file system explained, the authors next move into the important area of data access. After all, unless you are simply playing games on the PDA, it probably needs to interact with a database somewhere and I can assure you, just about every common task that you may encounter is discussed in depth. The show you how to bind controls to data, retrieve it from a Web Service, retrieve it from a SQL Server on a local network, use SQL CE to take advantage of replication and using XML as a Data Access technology. Since a PDA may get its data from many different sources, the ability to manipulate XML is very handy. Every problem that I ever encountered regarding data access in the CF was covered here and they have some really interesting ideas on how to implement things.
The book moves on to networking. There were only two chapters dedicated to networking and I would have liked to see more, but they definitely address just about everyt task that you'll routinely face. In all fairness to the authors though, there's about 100 pages dedicated to mobile networking and web services, and it's certainly not glossed over.
Chapter 17 takes a turn into Unmanaged code and P/Invoke and is probably my favorite chapter of the book. Why? Well, because a lot of things aren't yet supported on the CF and many probably won't be. So using Interop is the only way to get stuff done. I've developed CF programs for almost a year now, and this chapter got me through two problems that I hadn't been able to figure out previously. Beginning CF developers may not find this chapter as interesting as I did because it involves API calls, but trust me, this part is a life saver! Then they go right into showing you a really practical example of using Interop and their examples address things that I constantly see asked in newsgroups.
I was impressed by the authors' discussion of some really popular 3rd-party tools. Microsoft has a POOM example, but it leaves a lot to be desired. The authors show you how to use many of its features, and then present a very popular POOM Outlook implementation that is about as cool as it gets.
The rest of the book is pretty much a wind-down. It shows you how to build a help system, create setup applications and HTML reports. However, the authors did something really cool and slipped in a chapter on configuration files and how to use them. Registry access in the CF takes some time to learn (and if you didn't read Chapter 17, good luck!) and traditional configuration files aren't natively supported. However, they create their own implementation and it's very easy to understand. I've thought about implementing a solution like this for a while, but never got around to doing it. Fortunately, Larry and Dan took care of it for me. This is definitely a solution that you will probably want to use over and over.
The last part of the book is the appendices. This stuff is thorough and packed with solutions to all of those little problems that are so pesky when you are first starting out. These serve not only to get you past a whole slew of common frustrations, but they reinforce what was presented in the book I think the degree of detail that they included in the end was another superb touch by two guys who really care about their readers.
In summary, this book is a must by for many reasons. It covers a very broad range of information and it covers the majority of it in great detail. They walk you through getting started, building cool applications and deploying them. They give you a complete arsenal or tools to help build solutions with, and I can't think of anything that they ignored. They also give you the appendices, which, as I mentioned above, will get you through a lot of common pitfalls after you've built your application. As of this writing, I have compiled and run all of the code through Chapter 15 and found it well documented and accurate, but Apress can always be counted on for this. Editorially, the content was interesting and well presented and I found the layout very pleasing.
Without a doubt, this book is really great and something that you'll surely want to purchase if you are going to write CF code.
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