Obtaining MFC Feature Pack GUI elements in .NET WinForms

Posted by Cody Gray on Stack Overflow See other posts from Stack Overflow or by Cody Gray
Published on 2010-06-11T06:57:36Z Indexed on 2010/06/11 22:23 UTC
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The MFC Feature Pack (and VS 2010) adds out-of-the-box support for several "modern" GUI elements (such as MDI with tabbed documents, the ribbon, and a Visual Studio-style interface with docking panels). These are a boon to those of us that have to support legacy MFC-based applications and want to update their look-and-feel, and a sign that Microsoft has not completely abandoned unmanaged C++ development. However, with the push so strongly in favor of .NET, WinForms, and managed code (and for plenty of good reasons), there seems little reason to develop new applications in unmanaged C++/MFC.

The question then becomes how does one obtain these GUI elements in a WinForms application. Almost all of the add-ons and libraries I have found so far cost money, and introduce additional dependencies. I don't have a budget to buy third-party libraries, and the controls provided by Microsoft in MFC for free seem sufficient for our needs. But I still have reservations about learning MFC to develop a new application. Not only does the investment in time seem significant (by all accounts, MFC seems particularly difficult to learn, even for experienced .NET developers--although I am willing to try), but the question of MFC's lifespan is raised as well. Certainly, given the millions of lines of code and existing apps written in native C++, it will be around for some time, but the handwriting seems to be on the wall, so to speak, that it's no longer Microsoft's touted development platform.

It seems like these features should be available by now in WinForms without the need for third-party add-ons, or devoting a lot of time and resources to custom-drawing EVERYTHING. Am I just missing something? I find very little online that compares these new features of MFC to what is available in WinForms, mainly because most everything written on MFC pre-dated its most recent update, before which it looked admitted "dated," and with its other flaws, was hardly an appealing platform for new development. With the very recent release of VS 2010, we have a while to wait before WinForms gets updated again. What routes are you guys taking for applications whose customers demand a modern-looking UI on a budget?

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