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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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

If you build it, will they come?

OK, so we all know (I hope) that the latest and greatest version of Alpha Five ever -- that would be version 8 -- makes building commercial Web sites easy.

Now, instead of having to learn Java or PHP or dot-whatever, you can visually build world-class online stores, e-commerce services, Web applications, on-demand solutions, and so on.

And build you did.

That's when Web developers and businesses discover that creating their own Web application is only half the battle. In Web development, "if you build it" doesn't guarantee "they will come."

So now that you've gone through all the work of building your (what I'm sure is a sophisticated/exciting/rapid/secure/powerful/innovative/breakthrough) site with Alpha Five, how do you drive the traffic there?

In 2006, I was invited to the Online Marketing Summit's annual conference in Boston (for those interested, this year's conference will be taking place in San Diego).

One topic discussed throughout the conference was the use of blogging and podcasting (i.e., social media) as important e-marketing techniques.

My opinion: While blogging and podcasting are attractive marketing mediums, they don't live up to the promises conference speakers associated with them.

Worse, the speakers failed to emphasize the importance of good ol' fashioned, meat-and-potatoes marketing.

I've devoted much of my career to planning and executing marketing campaigns for clients. I've seen firsthand how results are generated by classic pull techniques, such as SEO and PPC, and supported by good public relations and advertising campaigns.

In addition, push techniques -- such as opt-in e-mail marketing and even direct mail -- also continue to prove their worth.

Before you run off and chase a blog or podcast, consider laying the groundwork with push- and pull-marketing basics to rev up your new site's traffic.

Moreover, don't overlook the value of the world's oldest marketing technique: network, network, network. Find the right venues and the right audiences, present and press the flesh, and then let word-of-mouth marketing work for you.

Then think about blogging.

Blogging and podcasting have a place in the online marketing puzzle, and I almost always recommend clients allocate some of their marketing budget for them. But blogs and podcasts can't do it alone.

So ... if you build it, and THEN you market it -- with push, pull, and social media --- they will come.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stack attack

Here's a well-articulated description of the problem facing application developers today: product stacks that grow like kudzu.

Software developer Jeff Atwood shows that in order to take a single action in programming, you often have to buy 20 other products before you can even get started.

Today, product stacking is a large, complex, expensive issue that stands between developers and their final deliverable.

For Jeff, in order to start working with a complete version of Microsoft's Visual Studio, he had to purchase a suite of service packs, updates, editions, and add-ons.

Not only is this expensive, but it's a statement to the complexities developers must work through to build applications. And it often ties applications to proprietary vendor platforms, which can further drive up costs over the app's lifetime.

It wasn't always this way. There was a time when all a coder needed was an idea and a compiler. For Alpha Five users, those days never left.

My team has always believed in giving developers everything they need to get the job done, in one box. Since we first launched the Alpha database system in 1985, it was designed to let people accomplish every programming task in a single environment.

As part of that, we also made certain the Alpha platform was flexible enough to allow the use of other platforms if the user wanted, but we never required bolt-on after bolt-on.

And we still don't. For example, here's what we put in the virtual box for Alpha Five Version 8:

* Complete suite of visual development tools for building desktop, Web, or hybrid GUIs
* Complete suite of development tools such as Action Script, Xbasic, Xdialog, reusable components
* High-level database development and management features such as database explorer, visual schema design, browse view, field rules, "Quick queries", templates
* Integrated e-mail, fax, and PDF capabilities
* Genies to speed development or debugging
* A complete reporting engine or quick genie-driven reports
* A ready-to-go security framework
* "Portable SQL" that allows you to write once, database anywhere
* Remote data access

That's just scratching the surface of what's in the box.

I hope I don't sound like a marketeer (that's my brother's job {grin}). But reading Jeff's post got me thinking about how bad the problem of product stacking has become.

I'm glad we never fell prey to its temptations.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

7 minutes that can change your life

Well, maybe not change your life, but perhaps change your mind about which database platform gives you the most modern, richest, easiest-to-use feature set.

Here's the first cut of a new video I've been working on, designed to be a fast and furious introduction to Alpha Five Version 8.

It's not a tutorial, but rather, an overview. In the old days, we'd develop direct mail brochures or, later, Web pages or PDFs that bullet out interesting features and screen caps.

Today, online video provides a far more efficient way to communicate software features, as this 7 minute video demonstrates. You can see the features in action, and spend less time trying to determine if they're relevant to your needs.

Please note this new video is a work in progress. There remain some rough edges. I would love to get your feedback, either via e-mail or here as a comment. Where can this and future videos be improved?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Building an EXCEL-lent database

It's actually quite easy to power-up data trapped in Excel spreadsheets by migrating it to a relational database. Many databases offer facilities for doing this. And we think Alpha Five's facilities for transforming data are among the easiest to use.

Selwyn (my brother) has created a nice tutorial on this very topic. If you can spare five minutes, Selwyn can show you how to build a database from a template or from existing data locked in Excel, Access, SQL, MySQL, Oracle, and more.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Web security made easy

There's more to building a Web application than just creating forms and connecting them to a database. When you're building a database-driven Web service, security should be your first concern.

Appropriately, Alpha Five version 8 includes a new Security Framework, which ensures security is considered at every level of your Web application. With this new tool set, you don't have to guess at security, reinvent the wheel, or spend months becoming a security guru. Rather, you leverage Alpha Five's Security Framework for robust, flexible, and persistent security.

Even so, many Alpha developers are new to Web development (as are many developers in general). To help them, I recently finished a white paper that reviews the most popular methods for Web application user registration and login. It also serves as a primer on securing your Internet-based applications.

Not all of the functionality covered in the white paper is native to Alpha's Security Framework (such as the registration scenarios and some of the tracking processes). However, all the tools needed to build these scenarios are included in A5V8.

I aimed to make this white paper a guide for both Alpha and non-Alpha users. So, even if you're not an Alpha programmer, you should still find the information of value. And if you haven’t taken a look at Alpha Five, do yourself a favor and give it a spin. It really does make building Web applications easier!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The FileMaker v. Alpha debate rages on

Sorry I haven't posted this week. I'm on vacation, and trying to minimize my e-time, so as to maximize my family time.

But I happened to check the comments on the PC World comparative "First Look" of Alpha Five v.8 vs. FileMaker v.9. It's interesting reading.

Speaking of which, I hope to post my next installment (Round III) on the FM v. A5 debate next week and, as promised, will be including some hard numbers that you might find eye opening.

If you have any thoughts on the differences between these two fine products, write to me, or comment here. I'm especially interested in hearing from folks who have actually used both FileMaker and Alpha Five.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Webinars work business development wonders

If you make your living providing custom database solutions (as I do), you probably spend quite a bit of time thinking about ways to reach new business prospects.

One useful technique I have found is to conduct weekly Webinars, which I host on my site.

I try to cover topics that participants want to learn about, such as how to build desktop and Web applications with Alpha Five. Sometimes it takes the form of free training, sometimes it's a discussion of programming technique, or a showcase of the products I sell -- it all depends on who shows up, and what they want to learn.

The point is, it's not structured as a "sales opportunity." It's a free flow of information, and I learn from it too. The goal should be to help people get the maximum benefit from Alpha Five.

I don't charge anything for my Webinars, and I allow anyone to attend. I get to demonstrate my product knowledge, business analysis, and Alpha programming skills, while I help fellow developers and build my referral network.

Feel free to drop by and take one in. And if there's a topic you'd like to learn about, feel free to drop me a line.

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