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, January 30, 2008

Blist, shmist

Blist, the Flex-based database that debuted this week at Demo is getting lots of buzz. That shows you interest in databases -- or, precisely, interest in "easy to use" databases -- remains high.

While the product appears easy-to-use, it's obviously too lightweight for any serious database work. This isn't to say that Web databases such as Blist don't have potential. But it will be years before developers will be able to build mission-critical apps with them, if ever.

On the other hand, Alpha Five today does desktop apps, Web apps, hybrid apps (desktop+Web), and even SQL, if you need it. It's also easy to use, so if you know how to use Excel, you can build professional-grade databases with Alpha Five.

Oh, and Alpha Five isn't demoware, pre-beta, beta, version 1.x, etc. Rather, it's at version 8, with a 25 year lineage with a track record of producing results for over a million users world wide.

The concept of developing your database from the Web is an interesting proposition, and something we take seriously. We are, however, less giddy about them than our friends in the press (who often don’t have to run businesses or organizations themselves). Our customers have real data management problems now that are far too complex for any Web-based proof-of-concept to solve.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Announcing the Alpha Five Marketplace

It is not an overstatement when I say that the traffic on the Alpha Software Web site has been increasing dramatically over the last 12 months. We've been working hard to get the word out, and the effort is paying off.

It's not just developers who are visiting the site. Business leaders are searching for solutions, and are looking to us to help connect them with qualified Alpha Five VARs. We have a number of things in place and in the works to foster these relationships.

One of the newest launched today: a section where developers, consultants, VARs, and solution providers can post products they've built with Alpha Five. We want to leverage our increased traffic to drive more visitors and, ultimately, sales for our partners.

We hope to see the number of products listed on this section expand in the coming months, and we'll be promoting it actively to prospects, as well as new and existing Alpha Five customers.

If you've created an application using Alpha Five, and would like to have it listed on our site, feel free to contact us through the site or by e-mail.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Checking in (and out) with The Cart Blog

As promised, here's our podcast with Scott Wilson, that software guy behind The Cart Blog. If you're into e-commerce (and who isn't?), his blog is one you want to watch (along with ours).







Warm up your library card: New Alpha Five books available

As usage and momentum for Alpha Five grows, it's driving demand for books about the product. We're listening, and working to expand our library of books and training materials. The latest book to ship is Xbasic for Everyone, which you can download as a PDF for $19.

You can also review the A5V8 manuals, guides, and white papers online. And we also offer mentoring, training, and complete application development services through our network of professional service advisors.

Lastly, if you're an accomplished developer or VAR looking for qualified leads from businesses of all sizes, contact me about becoming a certified Alpha Five shop.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Take Root blossoms with Alpha Software

Working with Alpha Software, I've come across a wide variety of clients and businesses. Few, though, have shared such touching stories as that of Liss Hart-Haviv's organization, Take Root. I'm honored that Alpha was able to help Take Root do what it takes to help others.

Customer Profile
Take Root was established by a collective of former abducted children to address a startling paradox in the field of missing child services: Direct services and resources were available to families searching for missing children, but not to abduction victims themselves. Take Root is a national non-profit organization funded by the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The organization administers the first and only direct support program available to victims of child abduction; engages in advocacy for child-victims; and provides landmark education on the victimology of child-abduction for multidisciplinary professionals, impacted families, and the public. Take Root's vision is to expand the nation's missing-child response beyond recovering missing children, to helping missing children recover.

Location
Kalama, Wash.

Industries
Non-profit, child services, victim services, missing and exploited children

Situation
Take Root was struggling to manage hundreds of contacts and cases annually. Everything was documented on paper, in handwritten files, or in disjointed electronic files. Searching data, cases, and contacts was tedious, time-consuming, and error-prone. It took quite a bit of time to keep case files organized. Sharing information between consultants was painful, as most telecommuted. Documents often had to be scanned and e-mailed, faxed, or copied and snail-mailed. Take Root needed a way to computerize all its information about its membership of former abducted children; case data on families in the process of recovery; and contacts from law enforcement, lawyers, judges, mental health professionals, and media. Whatever system they built or bought had to be easy to use, operate over the Web, and centralize and correlate the data. It also had to securely search and share the data among consultants. Lastly, the system had to fit Take Root's modest budget.

Solution
Take Root executive director Liss Hart-Haviv found Alpha Five through TechSoup, a program for non-profits that provides commercial software at cut rates. In just one eight-hour work day, Hart-Haviv built a fully functional relational database using Alpha Five that could store, organize, and sort membership, contact, and case data. Her new application could operate on a local network or over the Web, and provided facilities for secure login and access. She set about populating the database with demographic data, membership profiles, case records, and contact information.

Benefits
Alpha Five transformed Take Root's information management and, in the process, made the organization much more agile and effective. Hart-Haviv was shocked at how easy it was for her to design and build a complex Web database application that, in the end, met every requirement the organization established for it. Take Root saved the time and cost of hiring a programmer or buying a canned solution. The organization did not have to invest in employee training and IT staffing, because the resulting database solution is easy enough for novices to use. Alpha Five's genies helped Hart-Haviv express complex application logic to automate all of Take Root's business processes, eliminating the need to use paper forms and centralizing the agency's data into one database. Consultants who telecommute can access the application and data over the Web, giving them more time to focus on helping formerly abducted children, instead of filling out forms and pushing paper around. And because the database is Web-based, the organization's services are now available around the clock, around the globe.

For More Information
Alpha Software, Inc.
781-229-4500
www.AlphaSoftware.com

Take Root
1-800-ROOT-ORG
www.TakeRoot.org

Survey results: Why people switch to Alpha Five

Learning what brings people to Alpha Five is a great way to learn what customers value most in an application development platform, and what we should focus on going forward.

We recently asked a small, random sampling of Alpha Five customers what database products they considered or used in the past, and why they made the switch to Alpha Five.

We received 85 responses, and posted the results. What you see there is unedited; exactly the responses we saw. We didn't even correct spelling or grammar.

Give it a look. You might find it interesting. We certainly did.

We'll be conducting more surveys in the future, and will continue to share the unvarnished results here.

Why did you switch to Alpha Five? If you tried Alpha Five but didn't switch, what do we need to add or improve in order to make you an Alpha Five developer? Post your comments here.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

With a little help from my friends

Alpha's been abuzz over the past few weeks over some big news that's about to hit the wire. I'm sure my PR guy won't be happy that I'm leaking this info on the blog before the press release drops, but hey, I pay the bills!

The big news: Alpha Software is teaming up with FLEXquarters.com LLC to make Intuit's QuickBooks, the most popular accounting software in the world, even better. We'll soon be announcing a new Alpha product, QReportBuilder, the first report writer built expressly for Quickbooks.

QReportBuilder makes it possible for users to build custom reports with QuickBooks, something that's NEVER been possible before. QuickBooks expert and professional advisor Esther Friedberg Karp wrote an article on the software that's set to appear in the QuickBooks newsletter. And QReportBuilder already has a number of video tutorials for users of all skill sets.

Why is QReportBuilder a breakthrough for QuickBooks users? Glad you asked.

Users who need to visualize data in ways not supported by QuickBooks will no longer have to export QuickBooks to Microsoft Excel, and design a new spreadsheets every time they need a custom report.

With QReportBuilder, they can customize their data in ways never before possible with QuickBooks. For example, QReportBuilder can generate any custom report imaginable, based on QuickBooks data. The reports can also combine data with external sources, such as Excel, SQL, or MS Access.

By using QReportBuiler to unlock information buried in QuickBooks, users can make more informed business decisions to drive profitability and growth. Essentially, QReportBuilder gives QuickBooks the professional reporting engine it has always lacked, and the business insight which QuickBooks users have wanted for years.

With QReportBuilder's "visual QuickBooks reporting," users will never have to manually create a custom report again. Here are some examples of reports which are easy to create in QReportBuilder.

• Custom commissions calculations
• Custom reports for tax analysis
• Product catalogs with images
• Accounts receivable summary for adding customer names and addresses
• Invoice list based on paid date
• Invoice with embedded statement
• Balance sheet report modified with the design editor
• List of bills per vendor, one per page, sent to vendors as authorization for credit card payment
• Collections report modified any way you prefer
• Customers who have no invoices for 30, 60, 90 days, etc. (useful for marketing and sales departments)
• Merge extra data fields (not in QB) from Excel spreadsheet with QB customer data to produce a custom report
• Invoice line items sold, grouped, and subtotaled by city
• Mail merge letter sent to customers who have no invoices with “welcome back” coupon
• Profit by vendor item report grouped by vendor
• Reverse customer sales report with address information not found in QuickBooks report
• Sales and profit by rep name, report organized by sales rep name
• Sales report standard reformatted to your needs
• Bill items by class

Other features include:

• Complete display control with drag-and-drop ease
• Ready-to-run, pre-built report formats and data structures
• Report Genie creates the report format with one click
• Use filters and columns not available in QuickBooks
• Create reports, custom invoices, mail merge letters, and address labels
• E-mail reports as secure PDF, Microsoft Word, text, or Web HTML formats
• Merge data from multiple companies or reports into one report with ease

Alpha Software developed the interface that allows users to design and build complex custom reports with ease. Combined with FLEXquarters.com's QODBC driver, QReportBuilder allows that reporting interface to maintain a live link to QuickBooks data. This is the secret to producing custom QuickBooks reports on the fly.

Watch for more QuickBooks related products to be produced by this joint effort in the near future. And watch for a PR guy roaming the streets of Philly, crying, "but it wasn't officially announced yet!?"

Friday, January 11, 2008

FileMaker thoughts from a FileMaker user

I received an e-mail this week from one of our customers who uses both Alpha Five and FileMaker. Considering our FileMaker debates that raged this past summer, I thought this customer brought up some very interesting points in his experience using both platforms that would be worth sharing here.

As he still has Filemaker Client's, we won't reveal his identity. So for now, let's call him Mr. X. Here's Mr. X's story, as he wrote it:

I use both FileMaker and Alpha Five. Both have very good points. But I thought you'd be interested in this observation.

Some areas that FileMaker is extremely deficient in are:

Importing records
Compare importing say, 50,000 records into a FileMaker file versus an Alpha table (using similar index and field attribute settings for both tables.) Alpha will do this in minutes. FileMaker -- forget it -- go out to lunch and dinner, and maybe in six plus hours it might be done.

Import larger files -- forget about it.

Deleting records
Compare the time it takes to delete those same 50,000 records. In Alpha, it's near instant. In FileMaker, it takes even longer to delete the records than it does to import them. The common FileMaker "trick" to solving this problem is to create an empty clone of the data file and then delete the data file that contains the records. This "trick" must be done manually, as one cannot write a script to do it.

Updating large data tables Again, the Alpha edge is incredible. Try updating the 50,000 records, or even a subset of "found" records in the 50,000 records. Alpha will handle it very well. FileMaker does it, but you'll need to run it overnight because it will take ten to 12 hours OR LONGER.

Sorting records Try sorting that same 50,000 records by say, last name. In Alpha, it's near instant. In FileMaker, go to the bathroom and get a cup of coffee. It should be done by the time you return.

I am stunned at the lack of outcry by the FileMaker development community over these issues. I guess, it's they don't know other applications do it faster (much faster), or this is what they've grown use to and just accept it as the standard.
Actually, one of our Alpha team members did a little online searching after reading Mr. X's e-mail, and found that many FileMaker users are becoming frustrated over these typical FileMaker issues.

An example of this frustration is expressed in this posting.

"Slow Import
FileMaker Pro is impossibly slow in importing records, deleting records and even in doing something easy like emptying one field in a database. I have a database with 130.000 records. If you choose to import the records from a text file (which in my case was necessary because the field needed to be changed to unicode) it virtually took hours. And this is only for one field. Same problem if you need to delete a larger number of records.

If there is no workaround (I do not know of any) this problem makes FileMaker absolutely useless in my opinion."

For more Alpha vs. FileMaker info and comparisons, take a look at our previous posts on the matter.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Alpha Five gives Allstate Leasing a new lease on business

I was recently talking shop with Gary Philips, Operations Manager at Allstate Leasing in Owings Mill, Md. Gary let me in on the secret weapon of Allstate's growth and success: Alpha Five Version 8.

Read below to get Gary's full story, or have a look at the PDF layout.

Customer Profile
Allstate Leasing was founded in 1969 to fulfill the transportation needs of small to medium-sized businesses. Today, under the MileOne brand, the company has become the largest family of dealerships and service centers in the mid-Atlantic region, offering a wide variety of leasing and fleet services to corporate and consumer customers.

Location
Owings Mills, Md.

Industries
Automotive

Situation Allstate Leasing was using a computer system designed for car dealerships. It lacked specific forms the leasing company needed, such as lease expirations, monthly payments, lease specifications, etc. Company executives bought a solution designed for auto leasing companies, but found the "one-size-fits-all" approach didn't meet their unique needs. To adapt the program to their company's workflow and requirements would have been costly, so the software was abandoned. Meanwhile, the company still had to organize and manage its leasing data. For example, the company's bank required monthly reports with detailed leasing information. Dozens of people spent hours every month, manually collecting and preparing the report. Allstate was also struggling to tracking vehicle maintenance and repairs. The company needed a custom-fit solution that would track all aspects of every customer, lease, and vehicle-and do so in a manner consistent with Allstate's business practices. The system would also have to make data entry, retrieval, and reporting easy for the company's non-technical staff.

Solution Gary Phillips, Operation Manager at Allstate, hired consultant Steve Workings to design and develop a custom solution. Workings used Alpha Five to build an omnibus application that managed all aspects of Allstate's business. Lease documents, general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, service department information, repair orders, and inventory were organized by a single, centralized database application. At Phillips's request, Workings also developed a program to help Allstate's fleet management business track and store bills, payments, repair histories, mileage, and more for the company's fleet customers.

Benefits Leveraging Alpha's Action Scripting and visual programming tools, Workings was able to develop a complete system that addressed everything Allstate required, deploying each module as completed over several months. Now everyone on the company network can access comprehensive information on any of 2,500 vehicles currently leased or 2,000 vehicles tracked by the fleet maintenance management program. The information is organized, searchable, and accurate. The database system manages all fleet information, service status, and mileage, so fleet managers and Allstate employees alike have the information they need at their fingertips. And because the Alpha Five database is so easy to learn, Phillips-a non-programmer-can tweak or enhance the application himself, without calling on Workings for more billable hours. In fact, Allstate has been able to leverage their Alpha Five database and skills to become the servicing agent for the financing arm of a bathroom remodeling company. They created a custom Alpha Five program to administer all areas of the finance business, with minimal billable hours from Workings.

For More Information Alpha Software, Inc.
781-229-4500
www.AlphaSoftware.com

Allstate Leasing
1-800-223-4885
www.AllstateLeasing.com

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A jolt of good news

Reuters picked up our press release announcing our Dr. Dobb's Jolt Award nomination.

Two points for the Alpha blog

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to Tech reporter Erika Morphy about the importance of company blogs. Her article was published on TechNewsWorld and CRMBuyer today.

I would take this time to thank everyone involved in the Alpha blog, as a huge part of our diversity is thanks to you -- our readers -- for your comments, challenges, and kudos; and to our many contributors and their assorted view points and topics of conversation. But I already did that.

So at the risk of sounding repetitive, enjoy the article (and know that you are an essential ingredient to our notoriety). Cheers!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The world is your oyster

We've just compiled the entire Alpha Five help system into a single PDF file. Grab it here, or hit our documentation page and peruse the entire library.

Looking through the Prism

Mozilla Labs recently launched a series of experiments that they believe bridge the gap between applications designed for the desktop and those designed for the Web.

On one level this competes both with Adobe AIR and Microsoft WPF/Click-Once technology, as well as Google's Web Accelerator. On the other hand, it does seem to be much more ambitious.

To be honest, I've never been truly convinced of the use case here. Yes, it's whizzy technology, but how many people fly and work at the same time?

In any case, some airlines are already experimenting with in-flight WiFi. Deskbound office workers don't need it, and WiFi + cellular Web access is becoming so pervasive that it isn't needed.

I could imagine a couple of other verticals where this would be useful (large scale contracting companies for on-site access?). But again, the cost of developing a mixed mode application would seem to outweigh the benefits of cellular net access.

And as smartphones become widespread and better platforms for mobile applications, that takes a slice out as well.

So back to Alpha: we already have a disconnected/connected Web application development environment (build and debug on the desktop, publish to the Web), so for us, I don't see an impact.

I really hate dismissing a technology so thoroughly -- it makes me think I've missed a huge piece of the puzzle. If I have, please enlighten me! I welcome your comments.

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