User Interface design is evolving and the age of building from scratch is gradually becoming a thing of the past. Modern integrated development environments, IDEs, often contain features such as low code wizards and pre-made templates with beautiful professional quality styles and themes. Nowadays, many designers search for the best UI toolkit they can get to simplify their work process and create unique UIs that are also functional. Building UI for Windows has been made far easier with various Windows UI toolkit offerings that cut out the grunt work for many designers. These toolkits also place all the needed resources of a designer in one place. This ensures easy accessibility for the designer. But before we dive into 6 of the best UI toolkits for Windows, let’s explore what the Windows UI toolkit is all about?
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What are UI toolkits?
User Interface toolkits are drag-and-drop styled kits that come with pre-constructed user interface components and resources for websites and mobile apps. In addition, these toolkits come with style options that allow users to customize templates, layouts, and internal structure to their respective tastes.
Are there Windows UI toolkits?
UI toolkits are made for both desktop and mobile experiences. These options can be customized to fit various screen sizes or devices. Windows has undergone a thorough user interface transformation since its inception. Windows UI toolkits have been developed to make it easier for designers to create UI experiences that integrate with Windows seamlessly and make the best available use of the capabilities Windows has to offer.
Which are 6 of the best UI toolkit choices for Windows?
Many options are available for selecting the best framework among the various Windows UI toolkits for a great looking desktop application.
1. VCL is a serious contender for the best UI toolkit for Windows apps
The Visual Component Library, developed by Embarcadero Technologies to integrate with Delphi and C++Builder RAD tools is a components-based object-oriented framework for designing the user interface of Windows applications. The VCL also provides a number of non-visual components to encapsulate various types of functionalities into easy-to-use pieces such as Windows notifications. VCL styles can be used to update an existing application with a more modern look and feel as well as new applications which have the very latest modern appearance and visual control behavior your users would expect to find. The VCL is very closely coupled with the underlying Windows API and gives the most authentic user interface experience possible with no compromises.
The VCL has a generously comprehensive array of visual and non visual controls which come as ready-to-use packages of functionality. All the developer needs to do is drop a component on a form (the visual representation of one of the program’s application windows) and then set any properties of the control and add code to ‘events’ which are blocks of code which execute in response to things such as keypresses, change in keyboard focus and so on. This graphical design was one of the original ‘visual development’ systems when it was first released and allows developers to write fully functional programs extremely quickly and efficiently which is why the “RAD” in RAD Studio stands for “Rapid Application Development”. See the video below to see a real-world test where expert Delphi developers were pitted against other development technologies. Delphi easily beat the speed and functionality of the others in the study to justify that “rapid” in the RAD Studio name and why we think it deserves to be considered as a best UI toolkit.
The close coupling of the VCL with Windows means it is usually only used for Windows apps written using Delphi or C++. However, if you wish to make use of the gargantuan selection of Python packages to add additional flexibility such as Machine Learning where Python currently leads the field then you’ll be pleased to know that Embarcadero has released a great new free set of VCL and FMX Python modules which allow developers to have the best of all worlds. The VCL is actively developed and maintained by Embarcadero to ensure it embraces new and emerging UI movements.
2. FMX may well be the best UI toolkit for no compromises cross-platform development
The FireMonkey ® framework powers RAD Studio, Delphi, and C++Builder’s cross platform app development capabilities. FireMonkey is intended for teams developing multi-device, true native apps for Windows, OS X, Android, and iOS. FireMonkey offers a wide set of visual controls and visual effects like animations, gesture controls for touch devices and advanced compositing of multi-element visual elements which can combine a number of controls together along with ready-to-go visual eye-candy such as shadows, tints, blurs and a whole host of others.
The FireMonkey framework is comparable to the VCL framework and has a similar easy to use programming paradigm of properties and events. Using FireMonkey controls allows the Delphi or C++ apps to work on all the major operating system and device platforms such as Windows, macOS, iOS, Android and even Linux with FMXLinux. FireMonkey projects contain these platforms as ‘targets’ and it’s possible for one project and one set of program source code to reach all these platforms compared to other competing solutions which often require multiple different projects and completely unrelated source code for each platform they are targeting. This one project, one set of source code is a major efficiency gain for developers using the FireMonkey platform and also adds a huge productivity boost.
FireMonkey enables the development of applications and user interfaces in HD and 3D categories. HD applications use UI elements on the screen to create a traditional two-dimensional interface. FireMonkey’s dynamic style system uses multi-resolution bitmaps for high-DPI displays; hence it is referred to as HD. A 3D interface, the second type, offers a 3D scene environment helpful for creating visualizations with perceived depth and ‘z-ordering’.
The FMX stencils tool from Embarcadero is a convenient tool available for designers who work with developers that use RAD Studio, Delphi, or C++Builder to build multi-device applications. This tool improves communications between designers and developers. It is also packed with excellent components such as Balsamiq, Sketch, Illustrator, Photoshop, SVG, and PNG FMX stencils for a platform-agnostic, generic user interface theme. Also, Balsamiq, Sketch, Illustrator, Photoshop, SVG, and PNG FMX stencils for the iOS Copper Dark Theme, part of the FireMonkey Premium Style Bundle. It is essentially a tool built to improve the working relationship between designers and developers. You can hardly get a better counterpart on the market.
The WinForms name is derived from “Windows form applications”. WinForms is a class library aimed at the task of designing graphical user interfaces. It focuses on a design paradigm of application windows, known as forms, which then host subordinate visual and non-visual controls. WinForms was included with the Microsoft .NET framework and also was incorporated into the Mono framework where it was used to enable desktop applications to have a consistent GUI. It’s fair to say that applications which used WinForms were particularly popular just after the release of WinForms in 2002 but the quite distinctive look was very much of the era and is tied very closely to the Microsoft Windows Operating System.
Microsoft have turned their attention to successor technologies based around the XAML declarative UI approach and in conjunction with this re-focus of direction by them they released the Windows Forms project’s source code as open source in 2018 where it has an enthusiastic following with C# and Visual Basic developers. However, at the time of writing the Windows Forms remains a wholly Windows-based technology despite the partial integration with the cross platform Mono project. Before choosing WinForms it’s worth noting that as long ago as 2014 Microsoft publicly stated that Windows Forms is in “maintenance mode” which means they do not intend to put any further development into the project which may, ultimately, mean it becomes out of date with no unviable in the medium term.
WPF or the Windows Presentation Foundation Library was released in 2006 as a graphic user interface realization subsystem for the .NET framework. WPF leveraged DirectX to manifest the graphical, visual elements of apps which used WPF. The application’s WPF screens are described using a form of XML which later evolved into another form know as XAML. This form of declarative visual design is a repeating direction of Microsoft with XAML making an appearance in WPF, Silverlight (a now defunct Microsoft technology for creating interactive web pages) and UWP the Universal Windows Platform. Programmers using XAML literally write specialized XML code to instantiate screens/forms and the controls on them along with ‘workflow’ actions in response to user actions like clicks and hovering.
WPF apps could, at one point, be run ‘seamlessly’ from within a web browser window using a technology called “XBAP” however this proved to be open to abuse by those wishing to attack the PC running the app potentially allowing hackers to implant viruses and trojans and as a result XBAP’s former ability to run as a “full trust” application with almost unfettered access to the host computer’s resources is now curtailed largely to 2d and 3d drawing of controls and artifacts along with the playback of animations and audio. The restrictions do not, of course, affect regular WPF applications
Qt is a library for developing graphical user interfaces and cross-platform programs that work on various operating systems, including Linux, Windows, macOS, Android, and embedded systems. The Qt project often refers to itself as a “widget toolkit” which implies it merely provides add-on controls to enable the design of user interfaces, but Qt does provide some other non-GUI functionality too such as database access and networking support. QT is written in C++ and is designed to be compiler-agnostic which means it can be compiled and employed by developers using several different compilers including Linux GCC C++, Visual Studio, PHP, Python and RAD Studio C++ Builder.
Why use the best UI toolkit for your app?
UI toolkits were essentially developed to make the work of designers easier. Besides this, there are other reasons why designers and developers alike can benefit from time invested in learning and using them;
- UI toolkits provide ready-made user interface essentials in a consistent and reproducible way. The right choice can mean it’s efficient to use, especially when on a tight schedule.
- Time and money work hand in hand, especially in the design world where tangible results are more readily apparent due to their visual nature. The more time you save, the more work you can do, and with a good toolkit, you don’t have to take too long to develop ideas.
- It takes a lot of focus to build UI designs from scratch. By choosing the right toolkit, especially those which use a visual “what you see is what you get” approach such as that of RAD Studio and Delphi or C++ Builder, let you focus on the more demanding parts of the design, the outliers, rather than spending energy on every little thing.
- Another advantage of UI toolkits is the availability of options. You can quickly check out various designs and styles and combine resources to create unique designs.
- Good designs can always inspire better designs. With excellent UI kits, you can quickly learn to make better UI designs by observation.
Are you ready to begin your UI projects with the best UI toolkits for Windows?
You can develop Windows applications or software with Delphi in collaboration with designers using FireMonkey stencil. The FireMonkey FMX framework makes it easy for cross-platform development with a repeatable, professional, totally modern look and feel which you can see right away taking shape in the RAD Studio IDE visual screen which removes any guesswork. Download Firemonkey stencil now and start building cross-platform for Windows.
With the Delphi 11.1 release, there is an increase in support for Windows 11, macOS 12 Monterey, iOS 15, and Android 12, and improvements on The Milestone Features of 11 Alexandria. You get a single code base that allows you to create apps for major platforms without going through too much stress. You also get High DPI and 4K meaning there is full support for the latest 4k+ monitors and cleaner and sharper fonts and icons. You can also access over 20 databases natively via FireDAC’s high-speed direct access. All these and much more from the Delphi 11.1 release.