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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A developer's thoughts on Iron Speed 6.0

Ironspeed Designer recently announced the upcoming release of the latest version of their .NET code generator product. As is their custom, a webinar was held this week to show the latest features and updates to their product prior to shipping.

Jim Dusoe, Alpha user and a BMSI Software developer, attended the webinar, and wanted to share his opinion of the new Ironspeed 6.0 with you. Instead of interpreting what he said in a very detailed letter to me, I'm just going to copy it, verbatim, here for you to review.

In my opinion, they are making some fundamental errors in the direction they have chosen to go, and will most likely continue to frustrate developers and lose customers.

First, let me briefly tell you of my experience with Ironspeed. I have primarily been a Visual Foxpro, SQL Server and ASP developer for many years, making the decision to use MS products as my development platform. Over the years, like most developers, I have created foundation classes and certain methodologies to try to enable as much code reuse as possible. I have been successful with that for VFP, but knew that web-based apps were definitely the direction I needed to go.

Unfortunately, every attempt to try to move to other platforms (Visual Studio, VB and misc open source tools/other development environments) all meant a MUCH longer development cycle, even if I was to become proficient in a particular language.

After creating several web applications using both classic ASP and .NET approaches, I started looking for an alternative that would help to shorten the development life cycle.

Enter Ironspeed Designer. After reviewing several options, there were a limited number of companies that provided any substantial time savings in application development or that created a useable application.

ISD provided 80 to 90% of the typical CRUD (CReate Update Delete) functionality that often takes so much of a developer's time. Their approach is to generate multiple SHOWTABLE, ADDRECORD, EDITRECORD, SHOWRECORD pages based on the database schema. In fact, this is fairly well implemented, but relies heavily on a properly designed database. I was successful in creating some reasonably sophisticated applications, with my goal being to try to avoid manual coding as much as possible.

Through this process I began to discover some of the shortcomings. Ironspeed makes no bones about the fact that they are a Code Generator and not an IDE. It has become apparent that they intend their product to be used with Visual Studio to create and maintain any significant application. One of the core problems for me was the lack of layout control.

With ISD, you are locked in to their styles, with no simple way to edit record rows or field controls without manually writing HTML code. Trying to bring it into Visual Studio was not viable as you could not generate any kind of WYSIWYG view of the final layout. Your only option is to manually hand code the HTML, recompile, launch the application, then view your page.

This obviously takes a good deal of time, and each compilation requires a full .NET recompile. Their approach means that you need to purchase not only Ironspeed, but if you intend to do any significant modifications, you will need Visual Studio as well.

Page Layouts

ISDs approach is to provide fixed table and record layouts, with configuration options. Rather than provide control over the position and style of individual panels and controls, you must select from a list of preset page styles.

ISDs ongoing addition of page types speaks rather strongly to the fact that the user base has been demanding more layout control. I think it is a fundamental error in direction to head where they are going. In fact, they rather casually dismissed the fact that you can no longer drag and drop controls (buttons, text, images, etc.)
but that you would have to manually enter code to insert ASPX controls.

I can see no good reason for them taking this step backwards.

Features

One of the things that strikes me is the features that were presented today are already incorporated into Alpha 5 V9.
  • Live preview
  • Configuration pane (in conjunction with live preview)
  • Email page option
  • New page types to address layout needs
Although they avoided a WYSIWYG display in the past, they have given into the need for a preview of the active pane, something the ISD community has been requesting for some time.

As I mentioned early on in our conversations, I have found that Alpha 5 provides an excellent balance of drag and drop, action script based development, xbasic code and HTML/CSS editing capabilities which allows you to go as deep as you need to for your application.

Ironspeed does NOT have:
  • An IDE
  • WYSIWYG layout
  • Ability to create desktop application
  • Inline styles
  • Drag and Drop controls
  • No quick HTML view (used to be in prior version for quick HTML fixes)
There are also little things that I question. Because ISD relies on .NET, compilation times impact the overall efficiency of development. The live preview pane seemed a bit sluggish. And this was connected to a local Northwind sample database. I am not sure that the performance against a hosted database is going to be acceptable.

I've found that working with Alpha 5 has been quite acceptable in the performance arena when it comes to the development process. The work I've done to date has been connected to remote SQL servers, and the performance has been fine.

The live preview panes work well for the most part. Any idiosyncrasies have been resolved by a restart, and to date I've not lost any changes I was working on.

I think something that is going to be VERY significant is the work Selwyn is doing with the AJAX development, especially the grid component. Where Ironspeed needs to create multiple pages, which means multiple round trips to the server for various functions, I can do all my add, edit, delete functions in a single form/grid with no full screen refresh access to controls/functions all managed by the security framework.

This is going to have a HUGE impact on how I create web apps.

Applications BMSI Software has created with Ironspeed include:
  • Vision Payment Solutions (Merchant Account Credit Card Sales Agent Portal)
  • Hybrid SQL Server(SSIS, SSRS, TSQL, etc.), ASP, Ironspeed, Web and Visual Foxpro frontend
  • 1.5 year project, approx. $160k
  • Church Event Management front end (Provides dynamic content for events with
  • start/dropoff date)
  • Communication Timeline (simple task based project management)
  • Document Management System (medical transcriptionists)
  • Simple CMS (Content Management System . page content backend)
  • Misc. small projects
I am looking forward to converting most of these to Alpha 5 in the coming months.
I trust this helps give some insight to what Ironspeed is doing Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts.
Write to me if you have any questions for Jim.

15 comments :

nigeldude said...

I'm yet to build a web app, but that’s in my future plans. I have been searching for a RAD tool for this purpose even though I have A5V9, my main reason is the fact that with an A5 created web app, I need the A5 app server to run it, what’s more, I need a windows server to install the A5 server on. This single fact has caused me to still not launch a web app to date. All the other Rad tools I've found so far can produce a web app that just requires a Linux server. But I've become accustomed to the ease of use with A5 and keep looking for one that matches that.

I have known about Iron Speed for years now, longer than I've known about A5. I'm on their mailing list and keep up with their changes, but for all the short comings just pointed out, I've decided it wasn't for me. I hate that there's no control over the visuals of the completed app (Show me a Iron Speed app anywhere and I can identify it). I hate all the manual coding that is required, and so I have not ventured very far with it.

Please allow me to ask what might be a silly question, but its one I've never heard asked before.

Will A5 created web apps always require the A5 App Server?
Will there ever be a version that produces standard php pages?

Richard Rabins said...

we are looking into approaches where the app server is not required and PHP would be generated. more importantly, we are looking into the cost of time which is by far and away the biggest cost; i.e., the time it takes to develop a complete and professional web app. in particular, we are very focused on ajax-enabling apps. we want the creation of ajax-powered web apps to be as easy and rapid as possible. stay tuned. you will NOT be disappointed!

Scott McNamara said...

I am an Iron Speed developer and trainer and am getting nervous about the Iron Speed changes coming with version 6.0

However, one of the strengths of Iron Speed is their styled templates that manage the SHOW, ADD and EDIT panels. I've not seen colorful professional panel layouts in the sample Alpha web applications shown on your website.

Do you have cool looking web applications that look as cool as an Iron Speed generated app?

nigeldude said...

I can think of only 2 web apps that were created in A5 that were offered for public viewing. These you can viewed at:
http://afas.alphasoftware.com/ecommerce/

http://alphatogo.com/webtemplate.htm

Dave Powers said...

See this tag for a few design examples and posts on design.

http://blog.alphasoftware.com/search/label/Design

or

http://tinyurl.com/6rt3by

You can create VERY polished Web UIs with Alpha. They don't do enough to promote this fact. And a lot of database developers aren't that good at Web design anyway, so you end up with basic Web forms.

But there's a complete HTML designer/editor in the platform. You can also use any design tool. See the post on using Expression with Alpha.

Richard Rabins said...

Please see this app, built in Alpha Five:

http://snipr.com/4m8me

Anonymous said...

Nigeldude: I have Alpha running a web app for a manufacturing company in Maine and I have a beefy XPPro machine running it. It runs and runs and runs 24 hours a day processing receipts, issues, finished goods and shipping transactions no problems. All being entered into motion tablet computers with barcoding. You can get a box to run it for $600. That should not stop you.
Go for it.
Nicholas Wieland -EDFI Corp

Anonymous said...

ISD6 is a PILE of SHIT!

For a developer/trainer to comment on there "COOL THEMES" when now you cant even quickly view them/edit them is a JOKE. Your an idiot. Im sorry if this offends anyone but the implementation that has gone on here is ridiculous.

Personally they need to HALT this shit before it hits the real public. RETRACT it and FIX IT!

Or they could do a microsoft, throw some half baked BS out into the market and push customers away.. WHY did MAC have such a take up? BECUASE VISTA FAILED!!!

Anonymous said...

Ironspeed 6.0 is horrible. The visual aspect of the designer was taken away making it very difficult to make quick changes to your html. After developing with the product for a few years now I have seen nothing but trouble. The learning curve is steep! The problems are numerous and their attitude is you do it their way or hit the high way. Dont look for any help either. Your basically on your own unless you pay big money for a service contract and even then you likely to get little or no help. Email support is a joke. You can wait for over 24 hours to get a reply and then they will ask for more info. which takes another 24 hours before you are asked other questions. A typical stall tactic. If you want to pay big money and you have a lot of time trying to figure out how to customize the apps (which you will want to do unless you like their cheap looking designs), be the beta tester when they rool out new version, Then go for it. Good luck because you will need it!

john said...

Richard...
Is there any training or "template" product available that would help us make something very similar to the site mentioned in your post below.

Richard Rabins said...
Please see this app, built in Alpha Five:

http://snipr.com/4m8me

8:49 PM

Anonymous said...

Amazing... y'all have no vision. SCM _is_ the future for anyone hoping to compete in LOB application development, and while there's a lot to like about Alpha, ISD is in a whole different league when it comes to everything from small to large scale n-tiered SCM web app development.

Les Cardwell

Jim Dusoe said...

My intent in posting this original blog was to offer my first impression of ISD6. And although Ironspeed has tried to address some of the issues raised in early demonstrations of their V6 product, my opinion still stands.

Until there is not only a simple, productive way to create the initial CRUD screens (which I have always maintained Ironspeed does rather well) AS WELL as to EASILY customize your layout and code and make changes that won't break your system, I think ISD6 has a long way to go to catch up to the capabilities of Alpha Software.

To say that Alpha has no vision seems to indicate a bit of a close minded view of the world. Alpha may not be what you are looking for, Les - but all I know is that I have been able to build extremely robust applications much faster that I've ever been able to on any other platforms. And at the end of the day, delivering systems that solve my customer's problems in a cost effective manner, and still maintain my profitability is the goal. Alpha Software lets me do that.

Anonymous said...

ISD 6.1 just came out, that means that they fixed the bugs from version 6 (based on there user complaints (CHECK THEIR FORUMS FOR SPECIFICS))added a little more functionality and called it a New and Improved Version upgrade. unless you have a service agreement you will not get the bug fixes if you own 6.0.

What a company! Rippoff tactics that they seem to thing no one will notice. My thoughts on them is that they are overpriced, release a buggy product (which is ok if they were to release fixes for them). They have the same attitude as AIG . Arragant, Ignorant and Greedy.

Anonymous said...

In all my years - I have never, ever encountered more frustration than I've had with ISD 5.4, 6.0 & 6.1. Had to rebuild with each major release!

I take two steps forward and ten back while being preached to on how "fantastic" it is. Problems are best resolved by a complete rebuild which only adds more time...

Bring on Alpha!!!!

Anonymous said...

I need to remain anonymous because I'm a writer for a well-known technical publication, but all I can say is that nothing has changed -- I just downloaded Iron Speed (apparently version 6.2); this is the free edition. What a pile of JUNK. I don't think I can even stand to review it, because there is nothing positive I could say about it.

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