Alpha Software is focused on enabling developers to create robust, data-driven business applications that run on any PC, Tablet or Smartphone in the fastest, most efficient and cost-effective manner possible.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

FileMaker Pro 9 vs. Alpha Five v.8: ROUND II

As promised, I am following up my initial post responding to PC World's First Look at Alpha Five, where they compared us to FileMaker Pro 9.

Here’s PC World’s opener, followed by my analysis.

The new FileMaker Pro 9 ($299) and Alpha Five Version 8 Professional ($249) both do a good job of helping ordinary people create useful and good-looking database applications. Both programs let you create desktop and Web databases for everything from e-mail marketing campaigns and online storefronts to media libraries and Christmas card lists. But the programs have different strengths: FileMaker is more intuitive, while Alpha Five offers more extensibility via scripts and Web apps.

Intuitive is a subjective thing. Clearly FileMaker was more intuitive for PC World’s writer. Your mileage may vary. I encourage you to download and try both products, and decide for yourself.

Get FileMaker here, and get Alpha Five here. Do your own testing, and let me know what you think by commenting here or sending an e-mail to me.

But I ask you: In 2007, how important is programmability (i.e., full customization)? Moreover, how important are Web applications? How important are "no installation needed," full-featured, networked applications delivered through a standard browser, running on any hardware?

Do you want a database product that's minimally extensible, and largely stuck in a 1990's desktop model, like FileMaker?

Or do you want a database that's built for extensibility, and lets you choose between building a traditional desktop app, a modern Web or browser-based app, or a hybrid app (desktop+Web/browser), as Alpha Five does?

This is a major point of distinction between FileMaker and Alpha Five, which PC World glossed over in their First Look. Alpha Five is the only available database application development platform that provides desktop, Web, and hybrid capabilities in one tool. Moreover, Alpha Five gives users total control over all three approaches.

Frankly, if your requirements call for more than one person to access your database, do you really want to force everyone to buy and install a copy of FileMaker on their desktop? Do you really want to be forced to buy and set up a file server, and run the database on your local area network? Do you want your database to sputter when it reaches 9 simultaneous users (FileMaker's hard-coded limit without an extra-cost server)?

Or would you prefer the flexibility to decide which users should be using a traditional Windows application, and which users you would like to send to a Web address (an URL), so they can access your new database through any Web browser?

And instead of limiting your flexible, extensible Web-or-desktop database to 9 users, how would you like to support hundreds of users out of the box, without being forced to buy extra file servers? That's the Alpha Five way.

Intuitive: Let’s go with PC World and give it to FileMaker, even though we disagree. We could debate "intuitive" until the sun runs out of energy. It's subjective.

Programmable (PC World says "extensible," but it's really programmability they're talking about): Alpha Five clearly deserves the nod.

Flexible (desktop, Web, and hybrid apps): No contest. Alpha Five does it all. FileMaker doesn't. It's a desktop database with limited Web capabilities.

Scalable: Again, Alpha Five v.8. We have customers whose Alpha Five databases are supporting over 300 users out of the box. FileMaker arbitrarily limits you to 9 users out of the box. Need to serve more? Reach for your checkbook.

The tally: Alpha Five 3, FileMaker 1.

Stay tuned for ROUND III comparing Alpha Five v.8 and FileMaker Pro v.9.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Hard facts about Alpha Five from Softletter

Softletter, an influential source of hard data and analysis on the software business (its circulation is 21,000 software CEOs and senior executives), released an article that speaks highly about some of Alpha's advantages.

Since Softletter is a subscription-only publication, we asked the editors for permission to post their article publicly here. They graciously obliged.

Softletter has been covering the software industry for about as long as there has been a software industry. If you're involved in the business of writing or selling software, and could use regular insights to help stay competitive, I suggest considering subscription to Softletter.

FileMaker Pro 9 vs. Alpha Five v.8: ROUND I

Some of you might have seen the recent comparative review in PC World between Alpha Five V8 and FileMaker Pro 9. If not, I encourage you to give it a read.

The good news: PC World thought the new Alpha Five version 8 warranted a "First Look," and both products ended up with a "very good" rating (FileMaker earned 86 points, Alpha Five earned 85 points).

The part that bothered us here at Alpha Software was that the First Look didn't look deeply enough, resulting in what we’re cheerfully referring to as a "First Overlook." We feel it is important to shed some light on some key facts for PC World's roughly 1.4 million readers.

The easiest way to do this is to tackle the article point by point. So let’s go, shall we? Let’s deconstruct the headline first. PC World says:

"Alpha Five offers more choices for extending functions with scripts and Web software, but most users will likely want to spend the extra money for the more-intuitive FileMaker."

Add water and expand. My translation (tongue firmly placed in cheek, phasers loaded):

Non-programmers can create desktop database applications with FileMaker visually, without writing a single line of code. But they can't easily extend those apps to exist as full blown apps on the Web, nor can they customize those apps without limitations on the desktop using a robust scripting language or a programming language.

Non-programmers can easily create powerful desktop database applications with Alpha Five visually, without writing a single line of code. Experienced Alpha Five developers can also use any mix of declarative or dynamic languages, such as Action Script, Xbasic, portable SQL, vendor SQL (and, soon, AJAX-powered GUIs that require no programming to build).

Forget about building full featured hosted Web applications (similar to anything that can be done with Visual Studio, Ruby, or PHP) with FileMaker. You just can't do it, unless you want Web apps that have very real limits in terms of their ability to be customized, don't scale, or require bolting on third-party products and coding in server-side scripting languages such as PHP.

Flip side: Plan on building professional hosted Web applications and database-driven on-demand software services in Alpha Five. You can build against the native Alpha Five database engine, or against any SQL backend (Alpha Five supports ODBC and native drivers for MySQL, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and IBM DB2). Pure Web development support is baked in.

Frankly, the design goal of Alpha Five Version 8 was to empower anyone, from the average Joe to the CIO, to build the same kind of apps one can develop in PHP or .NET or Ruby or JSP or what have you -- but 5 to 10 times faster than is possible using any of those platforms.

So I guess PC World's conclusion that most users will likely want to spend $50 more (or hundreds/thousands more when servers are price-compared) to be constrained by FileMaker’s limitations, because it's "more intuitive initially" -- even if it does run out of gas once your database needs grow -- makes a lot of sense (or as Borat would say, "Not!")

OK, I got that off my chest. Shields down. Phasers on standby. ;-)

I'll be posting more on FILEMAKER 9 VERSUS ALPHA FIVE VERSION 8. I will drill into more detail regarding the two program's contrasts, and provide some benchmark results that anyone considering a database development platform, FileMaker or Access or anything else, will want to know.

Hitting home with our hometown paper

The Boston Globe picked up our latest news. It's worth a quick read if you're an Alpha fan and have the time.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fun with QuickFilters

Blogger Adam Backstrom shares our affinity for the flexible power of Alpha's QuickFilter feature, which lets you quickly find records in a form, or browse with matching field data. Check out his tutorial, which demonstrates how to "stack" QuickFilters. Stacking lets you dig down to a desired record set quickly and easily.

Friday, July 20, 2007

About.com points to Alpha Five

I was cruising some of my regular database haunts on the Web today, when what did I hit, but one of our own tutorials.

Apparently, About.com's Mike Chapple thought highly enough of it that he featured it in his database column.

His actual quote was -- "In this video tutorial, Alpha Five's developers walk you through the process of using their platform to quickly create a database for a fictitious dog-washing business. It's a great introduction to databases that takes about 22 minutes to view. "

If you ever thought that programming a database was beyond your skills, I have a feeling this tutorial might convince you otherwise. We believe that, given the right tools, the average person can take control of their data destiny.

You really don't have to be beholden to your IT department or consultants to build your own software applications. Now, I have nothing against IT departments or consultants; we support their needs, too.

But unlike most tools that are powerful enough to keep IT pros and consultants happy, our product, Alpha Five, has a special set of features designed specifically to make building databases approachable by the average business person.

If you've ever been interested in building your own custom apps, but thought it was the exclusive domain of professional programmers, give this tutorial a view. It might just change your mind.

It showcases what we believe is one of Alpha Five's key differentiators in the market: ease of use for novices, with power to spare for professionals.

If, after you watch the tutorial, you'd like to try to build a database, download a free trial version of Alpha Five. Let me know how you fare.

Btw, we have even more tutorials here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Perspectives on the CompArch 2007 conference

Beginning July 9, I attended the week-long CompArch 2007 conference at Tufts University. Chaired by Judith Stafford (Tufts University), the conference was organized by some of the leading minds in the field from around the world. This event combined several conferences into one intensive week, including:

The 10th International ACM SIGSOFT Symposium on Component-Based Software Engineering (CBSE 2007)

The Role of Software Architecture for Testing and Analysis (ROSATEA 2007)

The Third Annual International Conference on Quality of Software-Architectures
(QoSA '07)

Industrial Day: An entire day dedicated to the software industry.

And what a week it was! Usually I start to nod off during these long, lecture-filled days. Or worse, a day of rote readings of papers. By 4 p.m., you can often hear the familiar sound of snoring in the back of the hall.

Not at this conference! The entire day was well managed, and everything started and ended on time. The presentations were first-rate, and the discussions were supportive and on-task. This was, bar none, the best conference I have ever attended.

So what was it all about? Researchers presented papers on a variety of topics, all centered on understanding the relationship between software architecture and the characteristics of implemented solutions.

Specific areas discussed included change management, Quality of Service (QoS), runtime verification and monitoring, challenges in architectural dynamics, compositional reasoning, Web services, on-demand service software architectures, architecture-based validation, requirements and software architecture, and architecture-based testing, among others.

The keynote for the CBSE conference was presented by Kurt Wallnau of the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. He works on the Predictable Assembly from Certifiable Components (PACC ) research project at SEI.

In addition to his fortuitous luck in having an excellent first name (in my humble opinion), he presented a very abstract topic in clear and concise form, and was an active and valuable contributor to discussions throughout the CBSE conference.

The content was interesting, and the technical information useful. But some of the insights revealed by discussions with other participants, and reading between the lines, were even more intriguing. Here are some of my own observations from the perspective of a developer, and influenced by discussions with participants at the conference:

* While the academic community focuses on rigor and completeness, the "real world" of software development is a bit messy. We tend to do the minimum necessary to add value, rather than achieving the goal of perfect software. This is not necessarily good or bad. It's just the way it is.

* In developing an application or tool, one must finish the whole application. In academia, it is possible, and often necessary, to leave an area of a problem unsolved "for further investigation," or to designate it as "not interesting." Imagine leaving off the home page on your Web site because it is not an "interesting problem."

* Despite the difference in short-term objectives, it is interesting that both academia and commercial software developers are working in a constrained, often short-term mode. Developers must ship within the window of opportunity with constrained resources -- including money. Academics and researchers are working from limited grants, often utilizing graduate students who come into a research project, finish their degree, and move on -- rather than staying with a project long enough to develop a true expertise in the problem domain.

* It was extremely clear that researchers really want to be able to validate architectures, including correctness, reliability, and performance, and to move that validation into commercial software development.

* There wasn't much agreement about the feasibility of creating an automated tool to go from requirements to implementation from a theoretical, if not practical, standpoint.

* Research focus is on an absolute, provable solution in a well-defined problem domain. The "real world" can actually handle some degree of messiness, if it adds value to what we have. I'd love an affordable graphical tool that helps me address even 30 to 40 percent of the bottlenecks in my multi-threaded code, without having to profile and debug my way through it.

* More than one researcher commented on the fact that they have solved pieces of the problem. But getting the solution out of the lab and into commercial software is a thorny situation, especially for researchers with limited resources. A large company can fund a project if there is patience and interest. Researchers want and deserve credit, as well as a piece of the profits. In one particular case, the application was built, but the researcher admitted to me that the solution needed an experienced developer to come in and finish it for commercialization.

As a strong believer in the potential value of abstracting and automating the software development process -- hey, that's what we do at Alpha Software -- I was pleasantly surprised by the commitment of the academic and research community to take steps in that direction.

It does seem to me that there are more opportunities for collaboration and long-term thinking. These days, investors don't consider it particularly appealing, but if we can embed the wisdom of experienced software developers in practical tools, we just might save ourselves a lot of the cost in developing and re-targeting business applications that are high in quality, reliability, and excellence of performance.

Maybe. Maybe.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Hidden treasures of Action Scripting

There are lots of things in life that get me really excited. If you get me talking about dogs, for example, it'll be hard for me to stop. I'm such a dog person, in fact, that I need a daily fix of puppy love. For some people, it takes coffee. For me, it takes puppies.

So it's hard for me to see my comrades' eyes glaze over when I launch into a doggie monologue. Then again, some people get a real kick out of the mating cycles of Australian insects. Or the latest Star Wars collectibles. Thrilling.

Then there are the script jockeys who watch "normal people" glaze over when they wax on about the joys of scripting. Well, scripters, have I got a treat for you!

Alpha developer Frances Peake delivered a presentation on Action Scripting with Alpha Five at the 2006 Alpha Conference.

Her tutorial included highlights from the Xdialog Action Script genie, when to convert Action Scripts to Xbasic, how to integrate Action Scripting and Xbasic, and more.

The goal: to help Alpha programmers of every level strengthen their Xbasic and Xdialog skills by leveraging some lesser known, but extremely powerful Action Script features.

Frances demonstrated that while you can do great things by coding in Xbasic and Xdialog, you don't have to be a professional programmer to create some pretty amazing applications with Alpha Five's Action Scripting.

Well, the other day a PDF of her presentation re-surfaced in e-mail, and I thought it would be great to share it here. If you're a true Alpha fan, and you're not fully up to speed on Action Script, then put the cup of joe aside -- because this document is all you'll need to rev up your day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Shanghai Daily gives Alpha Five a thumbs up

Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon this review of Alpha Five Version 8 in July 9's Shanghai Daily.

Almost as delightful is the English translation of the Chinese newspaper. We did good.

Go ahead and take a look at what Shanghai Daily thinks of Alpha Software.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Alpha Five Version 8 named a CRN Emerging Technology

Forgive me for being thrilled for all of us in the Alpha Five community, but we just got some great news about everyone’s favorite database, Alpha Five Version 8: It was chosen by CRN to be included on CRN's Emerging Tech List!

The offerings that set us apart were Alpha Five Version 8’s ability to produce robust Web and desktop database applications faster through our RAD tools (rapid application development), Portable SQL, integrated Report Builder, and integrated Web Security Framework.

So what exactly does it mean to be an emerging technology? For starters, solutions providers will be eager to partner with us in their search for alternative product choices. According to the 2007 CRN Emerging Tech Survey, solution providers add emerging technologies because:

  • The technology is superior to other products in the market segment.

  • The technology complements a solution provider’s existing practice areas.

  • Emerging vendors pay more attention and provide better service to partners.

  • Emerging vendors offer higher margins.

  • Emerging vendors have better joint marketing programs.
And the good news for us: 61 percent of solutions providers surveyed plan to increase the number of emerging technology vendors they partner with in the next 12 months.

Here’s the methodology behind the selection process. Vendors who make the CRN Emerging Tech list must have an established solution provider program and formal guidelines for recruiting channel partners.

They must demonstrate that their direct sales mix is trending down as evidenced by the company’s revenue history, a channel positive or channel neutral strategy for internal sales compensation, and lower market share.

Final selection to the Emerging Technology list was made at the discretion of the CRN editorial team after a review of the submitted information and conversations with current or targeted partners.

Without a doubt, winning a spot on CRN’s Emerging Tech List validates our value proposition. When partners talk, we listen. They told us they wanted one tool that can do it all, from the desktop to the data center.

So we gave them a database development platform that met their strategic needs, and their customers’ business requirements—without locking them into one vendor’s database, or forcing them to abandon legacy platforms.

It’s this type of forward-thinking that sets us apart, and we’re excited to be recognized for it. Thanks CRN!

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