Most large web sites now include some method for site copy to be created dynamically, with all but the larger (ie. higher budget) installations using a custom content management system.
There are many good reasons for this, one near the top of the list is usually cost savings (not having a web agency update copy while charging by the hour), another is ease of maintenance for the client (not having multiple-hour turnaround).
When developing these content editing interfaces, some way must be given for the editor to enter textual copy. Traditionally this takes the form of some kind of text box. While the text box solution is great for the developer and fine to produce plain unformatted text, not so good for a client that is expecting to be able to add bold, italics, indents, bullets and images.
RichTextBox to the rescue
ASP.NET developers can now add rich HTML formatted text entry as easy as adding a simple text box, using the RichTextBox ASP.NET server control. The RichTextBox control allows the user to insert links, images, bullets, change fonts, etc, all in a familiar word-like manner.
While this sort of functionality has been becoming more and more common a sight, especially since Microsoft included much of the underlying technology in later versions of IE, this product wraps the functionality up in an extremely easy to implement package. It really is almost a case of dragging the control onto your ASP.NET page to get up and running.
You have a choice of three options when looking to use the RichTexBox.
First is a free download for evaluation purposes. This version is fully featured and the license is limited to 30 days. A message appears in the users work space to identify the control as the trial version.
Next up is the version most developers would look to use initially which is the version intended for a single web site (“standard” version). At $89.95 the control can be yours for less than an hour of a heavy weight contractor would cost!
For those who have really fallen for the contol in a big way there is the “Professional” license. This allows use across multiple web sites and is also the choice for deployment in web farm installations.
As noted earlier, the actual technology is not uncommon, so what of the alternatives.
First alternative is obviously to code your own. Well, as the cost is only just short of 90 bucks (US) which is just short of 60 uk pounds I don’t think there are a heck of a lot of people who would see that as economic, especially when you add in the time for testing and documenting the thing.
You could buy one of the Java or Director developed browser components. This is really the only option if your users might need to use Netscape as RichTextBox is IE only. This cross-browser arena is one that developers are giving a lot of attention.
What about competitors to RichTextBox? Well, checking out ASP.NET control gallery there are a few. I can only talk from initial impressions, mainly going by their web sites, number of downloads and client lists, but none seem to be as “mature” as RichTextBox. Only time will tell if any become a serious competitor.
Check out the RichTextBox site and you will see there are some pretty serious names using the control (including Microsoft, Intel and Sony – nice!), along with the fact it has been tested by hundreds of beta testers then downloaded and used thousands of times, this gives me a fair amount of confidence it will work as advertised.
Implementation and development
After all this, the real proof is how good it is in action. Patience is not my strong suit but thankfully I didn’t need any – using the example code supplied I had it up and working both on my development box and live well within 5 minutes. This included wiring it in to an example data entry form.
Once you have a simple page up and working you need to know how to tweak the defaults to your liking. Well, tweakers are well served. There are enough options and variations of features in the design time environment to keep anyone happy.
Technical support is through email and online, with sample code, a peer-to-peer discussion group and a constantly updated knowledgebase.
If your clients need to update site content and you can live with only supporting IE then this is definitely the product for you.