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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Friday, February 29, 2008

Alpha Five goes Platinum

After months of designing, testing, and perfecting, we're pleased to announce the newest Alpha Five upgrade is almost here. Until then, I'll be giving you a sneak peek at dozens of new features baked into the upcoming new version of Alpha Five (which, incidentally, we've dubbed "Platinum").

The first new feature I'll share is the ability to create multiple active-link tables. These tables allow you to work with data in remote SQL databases. You can create forms, reports, operations, and more, just like regular Alpha Five tables.

But when you create active-link tables, you can either use a batch operation that creates multiple tables at once (using defaults for the various options), or you can create them one at a time, which allows you to customize the active-link table.

If you choose the "multiple" option, you can always go back and edit an individual active-link table's definition.

For an in-depth look at active-link tables, watch this.

Keep your eyes on this blog, as I'll be highlighting one new feature a day as we beat the drum for the new release.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why do "cool" kids pick Ruby or PHP?

Coach Wei over on Con's Apache blog poses the questions, "Why do 'cool kids' choose Ruby or to build Web sites instead of Java?" and, "Why isn't built in Java?"

I can't answer for cool, since I was cool a few generations ago, and am now, er, old. But smart developers pick the appropriate tool for the task, and don't try to do everything in (or limit themselves to) only one language or platform.

Architecture isn't about, nor does it define, the implementation language. You don’t choose a language first. An architecture defines the structure, relationships, and patterns that exist between the pieces or components. Then you pick the language.

Another question Coach asks is, “Is it the lack of frameworks? I bet there are more Java frameworks than the population in China.”

How true -- and building Java applications means using a healthy (or unhealthy) set of them. The amount of sheer “stuff” you need to know to be effective in Java is simply daunting.

PHP, Ruby (on Rails) and Python are all small and easily learned. People have built frameworks for them, but you often don’t need them, and can keep the code nice and simple.

PHP v. Ruby v. Java? A red herring that reminds me of the C vs. BASIC and the Java vs. Visual Basic wars. Arguments not worth having.

Belated predictions for 2008

Who says all annual predictions have to happen in January? Not I! This blog post got me thinking about how the year will unfold. Here's how I see 2008 playing out (skipping anything that I predicted in December and which happened in January, so as not to stack the deck).

  • The iPhone/iTouch SDK will launch a wave of application development. Only a few will be hits/killer apps, although games will be a major area of success, and corporate applications will start to appear.
  • With the appearance of corporate connectivity applications and the G2 iPhone having better out-of-box corporate support, the iPhone’s explosive growth will continue.
  • The Google Phone platform will fail to gain significant traction in ’08 (maybe in ’09). There is no reference hardware, and there are IP issues of ISVs, as well as issues of how much of the hardware you get access to. Handset manufacturers will be slow to adopt it.
  • Apple with ship Bento in iWorks '09. Bento will still suck.
  • ERP integration consulting will continue to be a major growth area, with SOA and ESB causing project churn. Oracle and IBM will reap huge rewards from it.
  • SQL Server 2008 will be a big hit in MSFT environments, and win new business for new application deployment, but will not result in major “switching” from Oracle for established infrastructures.
  • Silverlight and Flash will become pervasive, with Flash the clear leader. However, Silverlight will start eating healthily into Flash’s market share after Silverlight 1.1 is released.
  • Vista adoption will cease to be an issue in the press as SP1 is a success, and corporate edition starts to “hockey stick” upwards. XP will start to be seen as a legacy platform.
  • IE8 will be a major win for Microsoft among developers as MSFT (finally!) shows it understands the importance of adherence to Web standards and pseudo standards for Web developers. IE8 passing the Acid2 test was a watershed.
  • Perl 6 will not ship.
  • Duke Nukem forever will not ship.
  • Classic Doom will still have better playability than many modern games (try it with Zdaemon).
  • PHP 6 might ship, but not before Q4.
  • RSS will still not be mainstream outside of the tech savvy/early adopter crowd.
  • ASP.NET's new MVC architecture will solidify and grow its corporate adoption.
  • Lack of interest in Ruby on Rails 2.0 continues. It’s reputation as the way of the future will continue to diminish as its original breakthrough features are copied onto every platform (apart from Perl).
  • Alpha’s new v9 product launches will triple company revenue for ’08.
  • Amazon's cloud continues to draw third-party management tools. Other vendors take notice. The trend continues, and Amazon's cloud reaches the tipping point that turns it into a compelling platform. By the end of 2008 I think we'll see this market -- or perhaps just Amazon -- crossing the chasm and becoming mainstream.

How to get a job in IT

I sent this humorous post to a friend of mine at our PR agency. Any experienced IT person has seen situations like this before, where high tech hairballs trump common sense. My agency friend replied with this post. That got me thinking about the reality of trying to find a job in IT. There are some basic truths that every job candidate needs to keep in mind.

Sometimes when I'm the old drunk propping up the end of a bar, I'll get into conversation with "youngsters" about resumes, hiring process, and so on. When I tell them, frankly, that their resume gets about 10 seconds of my time before I make the first "ditch or continue" decision, they look at me like I'm a drooling idiot.

OK, I may be drooling, but when I explain the math of a manger's day, the light begins to dawn. Then I tell them that if I'm buffered by an HR person, I'm probably getting the wrong resumes to boot. So, really, good luck and God bless, but the world is not an easy place. They usually end up ordering several shots of Jaggermeister before crying into a jug of Bud Lite (these are kids, remember).

Thinking about the resume problem, the killer is that the old saw, "it's not what you know, it's who you know," is actually true. The French system of finding a manager, sending a polite letter with your resume, and following up every four months or so is actually the best approach these days. Their recruiting culture, it turns out, is also how most American high tech companies work.

C'est bizzarre, mais c'est la vie.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Reducing costs without reducing quality

Gartner released a report today asserting that now is the time to cut IT budgets. The article was picked up by The Wall Street Journal, who published six tips for snipping costs smoothly. Whether you're shrinking or expanding your budget today, take a look at the article and the comments. Thought-provoking stuff here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

10 application design mistakes almost every developer makes

Jakob Nielsen has a new blog post that covers common application design mistakes. He largely focuses on Web applications, but his points are as valid for desktop apps as they are for Web apps.

There's some good stuff here, both for us at Alpha Software to keep in mind, and for our customers (you) to be aware of as you build your applications.

We've all seen these mistakes many times, and probably even made a couple of them ourselves.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ground zero for Alpha Five documentation

We're working on a redesign of our Web site, to make it easier to find the information and resources you're after. I've just seen some of the mockups, and they look great.

While we're waiting for the new site to launch, it occurred to me that a good stop-gap measure would be to publish a section that addresses the most common issues. That section is now live at http://www.alphasoftware.com/documentation/.

Here's what you'll find there.

Alpha Five Help System

The help system built into Alpha Five, in an on-demand HTML flavor.

FREE Alpha Five Made Easy V8 Abridged Book
An abridged version of the book, Alpha Five Made Easy. The complete book is available for sale in our online shop, as well as from Liberty Manuals. This abridged version includes several chapters to help you get started using Alpha Five. It's an especially good resource if you are evaluating the software. It includes a PDF and sample files packaged as a self-extracting EXE.

Deploying the Alpha Five Application Server

Put your Alpha Five Web applications on the Internet using your office or home office PC.

Import from Microsoft Office Excel
There are a variety of methods to get your data from Excel to Alpha Five. This one is quick, easy, and reliable.

Barcoding Article 1
Barcoding Article 2
Barcoding Article 3
A series discussing the use of barcodes in Alpha Five.

Hidden Treasure of Action Scripting
A tutorial with tips and advice on how to use Action Scripting in your Alpha Five applications. (This PDF is also included in the bundle below.) Based on a tutorial given by Frances Peake at the Alpha Software Conference.

Hidden Treasure of Action Scripting (sample files)
This ZIP file contains the above PDF above, and the Alpha Five sample files used in the tutorial.

Alpha Five vs ASP/PHP
A white paper that compares Alpha Five Web development with ASP and PHP.

AlphaStore 2007 Web E-Commerce Appplication FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions (and answers) about AlphaStore 2007, the Alpha Five E-commerce application.

How to Update Data in an Alpha Five Web Application via a Desktop Application

If you have data on a remote Alpha Five Application Server and want to update it via a desktop application, this article shows you how.

Monday, February 18, 2008

It don't mean a thing if you ain't marketing

No matter how wonderful you think your Alpha Five application is, great solutions must be marketed to thrive. In that spirit, I'd like to share the Top 10 Marketing Blogs, as voted for readers of Michael Stelzner's Blog on technical white papers.

  1. Seth Godin's Blog: Seth Godin finds marketing insight everywhere. Make him a daily read.
  2. MarketingProfs Daily Fix Blog: Some of marketing's savviest thinkers share their wisdom here.
  3. Duct Tape Marketing Blog: A gold mine for small businesses, with regular insights that are easy to implement.
  4. Techno//Marketer: A very good blog on leveraging online tools for marketing (and includes helpful videos).
  5. Buzz Marketing for Technology: This excellent blog, by BearingPoint's Paul Dunay, helps businesses learn how to stand out in a noisy world.
  6. Create Value or Die: This blog's title says it all. Learn how to create value for visitors.
  7. Web Ink Now: The ultimate stop for learning how to generate publicity for your business, from author David Meerman Scott.
  8. Web Strategy by Jeremiah: Great social networking blog with podcasts by Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang.
  9. The Buzz Bin: Excellent social media and PR blog by author Geoff Livingston.
  10. Diva Marketing Blog: A cornucopia of marketing insight comes from marketing diva Toby Bloomberg.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Michael Krigsman picks up our "risk" white paper

One of the most rewarding blogs on the Web has picked up our recently issued white paper.

Too much IT coverage fawns over new (and untested) gee-whiz products, repurposed case studies (served up by vendors), industry issues that are really non-issues (featuring quotes served up from IT executives who are themselves served up by PR people, advancing some agenda), and so on.

Michael's blog gets to the real warts and sores that plague IT: project failures. So it makes sense he would be interested in a white paper that puts forth an argument for why IT projects fail.

If you've read the paper, you know we were clear in the executive summary about any bias we injected into the content. And we did our best to make certain those biases didn't pollute the counsel the paper offers.

That said, some of the initial comments on Michael's blog take us to task for writing the paper in the first place, because we're (I'm paraphrasing) "doh! ... reinventing the wheel ... people already know this stuff."

I'll be commenting on Michael's blog in a bit. And I'll be saying this: We're not reinventing the wheel. We're documenting why the wheel doesn't turn smoothly in many IT shops. If all IT folks knew why projects fail, fewer projects would bite the dust.

Instead, I've seen figures that claim MOST app dev projects fail in one or more dimensions: cost, time, requirements, maintainability (or the lack thereof), performance, etc. And many never make it to deployment, period.

In many IT shops, the emperor has no clothes. We're calling the emperor on that.

This reminds me of arguments about QA and testing. Every IT pro will claim to understand how QA should be integrated into the app dev cycle. Yet I dare say most app dev projects today still have QA kicking in late in the cycle when, in fact, QA should start on day one.

Just last month I heard, first hand, of a MAJOR project deployed by a MAJOR job hunting site that failed in a MAJOR way. It was NON-FUNCTIONAL on day one. A truckload of cash was invested in this new "state of the art" app. And it didn't work. Worse, I heard the code is a hairball of .Net code.

How does that happen? Because the emperor has no clothes. Because the wheel was not documented. Because too many businesses have IT shops that live in a glass house.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Runtime rivalry

I just spoke to a potential Alpha Five customer and current FileMaker consultant who had some questions about Alpha Five. In particular, he wanted to learn about the licensing of our runtimes. There was some valuable information that passed between us, and I thought the gist of our conversation would make for a good post.

This gentleman believed that with FileMaker Pro Version 9, you have the ability to distribute an unlimited number of “single-user” runtimes. This caught me by surprise. We went back and forth a few times, and he encouraged me to call them and check it out for myself.

So I did. A FileMaker associate confirmed a number of interesting facts on the FileMaker product, which I also double-checked on their Web site. Here's the skinny on FileMaker runtimes.

  1. FileMaker's desktop software comes in two flavors: Filemaker Pro 9 and Filemaker Pro 9 Advanced.
  2. Filemaker Pro 9, which retails at $299.00, has no runtime functionality (meaning you can't build applications that you wish to deploy or distribute).
  3. If you want runtime functionality, you need the $499.00 Filemaker Pro 9 Advanced. There is a runtime included with this, but with some serious drawbacks, especially if you're a consultant.
  4. The runtime cannot be networked, so it's for a single-user only. For example, if you have built a gas station application and wish to sell it to 200 gas stations, you can do it, but it can only be on a single workstation. It cannot be networked, which coluld be a problem for a consultant.
  5. Certain additional features are also pulled from the runtime functionality, which is quoted here from their site: Please note that runtime applications cannot be shared over a network, do not include the ability to create Adobe PDF or Microsoft Excel files, and do not include the support for External SQL Data Sources. Again, these missing features could be crucial, especially for reporting or invoicing.

Knowing this, I figured the potential customer must have misunderstood how our runtime works. I called him back and explained that I had talked to FileMaker and researched their site, and explained the limitations as described above.

I then explained the benefits of Alpha’s runtime, and why it is superior to FileMaker's. I told him:

  1. All Alpha Five runtime modules, which start at three-user, are unlimited runtimes. What does this mean? If we go back to the gas station model above, it means that I can sell my application to an unlimited number of gas stations without having to buy a runtime for each gas station.
  2. Alpha Five is fully networkable. This means that should the gas station need a second or third workstation networked, it's not a problem technically, and it's not an extra charge.
  3. Alpha Five allows you to install the runtime on an unlimited number of workstations per site. So even with the three-user runtime, if the gas station has 10 workstations, you can install the runtime on all 10 workstations, with the only limitation being that it will only allow a maximum of 3 concurrent users on a network. If they are not networked, then there is no limitation.
  4. Alpha Five's runtime includes 100% of the application's features. No features are removed (such as the ability to create PDF files or Excel files). This means , for example, you can build reporting into your applications, so your clients can e-mail their invoices in PDF format.
  5. If you want to give your clients added functionality, such as creating their own reports (not using pre-defined reports set-up by the consultant), Alpha Five gives you that ability with our Runtime PLUS modules.

When it comes to runtime licensing, there really is no comparison between FileMaker and Alpha Five.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Redefining application development risk

The past few months we've been developing a white paper on the definition of risk in application development. At last the paper is ready, and we've posted it here.

This paper was designed to accomplish two things:

1. Update the notion of risk for the 21st century. We think we make a pretty compelling intellectual argument for the need to redefine risk, and the practical method to do so.

2. From a marketing standpoint, at Alpha, we have found it useful to provide developers in the enterprise -- who already appreciate Alpha Five capabilities vis-a-vis competing RAD tools -- with a document that helps them make a case for bringing Alpha Five into organizations where the "you can't get fired for buying Microsoft" mentality prevails.

We understand that in some circles, Alpha as a company and Alpha Five as a product are sometimes met with a "never heard of it" by senior IT execs. While that should not be the kiss of death, it can present challenges to Alpha evangelists in a world dominated by Microsoft, Sun, IBM, and Oracle.

We believe this white paper can help Alpha evangelists change the equation, and make a case to give Alpha Five a shot in organizations interested in getting results faster and more predictably than with competing solutions.

Of course, I welcome feedback on this white paper, and suggestions for any other topics you would like to see. You can write to me at Richard@AlphaSoftware.com.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Friday, February 01, 2008

Recession blues

"The recession" is the buzz on everyone's mind these days, no matter where they work or what they do.

I was interviewed by an AP reporter, who wanted to know how people at Alpha felt about the current state of the economy, and how the company leadership was helping employees cope.

The article is popping up in papers all over the country. We saw it in San Diego yesterday. Take a look. It also made CNN today.

Like a hot knife through cold butter

I came across this clip the other day and decided to share here it for two reasons:

1. It's one of my favorite dance routines of all time. Simply classic. You just don't see that anymore.

2. I couldn't help but compare the masterful footwork of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell to masterful footwork embodied in Alpha Five. How so? Both make hard work look easy. (I'm not kidding; I actually had that thought while watching this. I know; I'm a twisted marketer!)



Take a few minutes from your busy day and enjoy.

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