More on what's "super" about Supercontrols. The Record Navigator Supercontrol allows you to put a vertical or horizontal trackbar or scrollbar on a form. By dragging the slider, you can move through the records in your form. As you can see in this video, it's easy for users to use, and saves them time when filling out records.
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.
Monday, March 31, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
Accordions might not be the "hippest" musical instrument these days, but in Alpha Five, accordion controls are a great way to present categorized menu choices to a user. Accordion controls are basically a list with sections, and opening one section can automatically close the section that's currently open. This video shows how you can put a button in the accordion control, and then style the button with standard CSS. And as an encore, you'll also see how you can use all of the built-in images that come with Alpha Five to decorate your forms.
Last week, I told you about a review of Alpha Five Platinum beta by InfoWorld's Martin Heller in his blog, the Strategic Developer. The review followed a rather pleasant lunch we had together, where one of my off-the-cuff comments seems to have struck a chord with the Strategic Developer himself (as well as a number of commentators). Take a look at his latest blog post.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
When you place an HTML form supercontrol on a form or Xdialog in Alpha Platinum, you can use standard HTML controls (such as inputs, radio buttons, text areas, etc.) in the HTML form. You can also use several "Alpha Five controls," such as tab controls, accordion controls, and conditional objects.
This video shows how you can place an accordion control in an HTML form supercontrol. It also shows how you can define event handlers for the events in the form using Xbasic. Ooh la la.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
In some industries, such as insurance, the business development sport of choice is golf. Many a deal has been cultivated and closed on the golf course. I venture to say that billions of dollars in insurance policies are generated every year somewhere between the front and back nine.
Golf, of course, isn't the only sport that aids business development. Many executives and marketing professionals have different sporting poisons. I'm sure we all know someone who leverages prime seats at baseball, football, basketball, and hockey games; and even boxing matches. We do this to court new clients, and bond with existing ones, all while enjoying a hot dog and a beer.
Interestingly, perhaps sadly, this American synergy of sports, business, and sales doesn't travel well across the Atlantic or Pacific. We've all heard stories about how companies have stuck their corporate thumb in their eye with bad translations of product names and tag lines in places such as Japan, Brazil, India, or Russia.
The untold story is that, every day, American companies miss myriad opportunities to forge better relationships and close bigger deals with their global counterparts, simply because they lack one international edge over their competitors. That edge is a knowledge about a sport little known in the U.S., but a passion for 2 billion people internationally: cricket.
It's one of the hottest sports in the world (second only to soccer) with ESPN paying over $1 billion for broadcast rights in certain countries to air the World Cup of Cricket. And interest in cricket is growing everywhere except, interestingly, in the U.S.
It's expanding rapidly in India, in lockstep with the growing middle class; it's become a virtual religion. Fandom is growing like kudzu in Brazil, Russia, and China. And of course, cricket is entrenched as the dominant summer sport in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, Pakistan, and South Africa.
If you accept the fact -- which is inarguable -- that every American business is now part of a global economy, then cricket is an ESSENTIAL topic for every U.S. executive to get their head around.
Learn to talk about cricket. Learn who the players are, who the teams are, and what the standings are. Go even further, and learn to play cricket (you learned golf and softball, didn't you?). This knowledge will be a potent competitive weapon when marketing one-on-one with potential partners and customers overseas.
A good place to start your journey is Wikipedia, which has a very good overview, and an introductory video.
I can talk about cricket with some authority, thanks to my background. I was born in Zimbabwe (what used to be Rhodesia, a British colony at the time). I was educated in South Africa, and moved to the U.S. to attend MIT in 1977.
Those who know me get to hear my Southern African accent. What they might not know is I'm a rabid cricket fan. I have made successful use of my love for this sport in my dealings in Europe, Australia, Africa, and Asia. In fact, I credit my knowledge of cricket for helping forge some important partnerships here at Alpha Software.
Once you demonstrate your interest and knowledge of the game, you will stand out from your competition when you bring the conversation around to cricket. Your English, Indian, etc., guests will likely be floored upon hearing an American business leader wax authoritatively on their favorite sport.
What do I hope to accomplish with posts on cricket? I hope to raise awareness of the sport here in the U.S. among our customer, developer, and VAR base. I hope to provide conversational tools to help friends and colleagues form relationships and compete more effectively, in a way they never would have dreamed of.
So keep your eye on this tag for more information on using cricket as a competitive weapon in coming days.
(Note: The articles on cricket are part of a broader plan to post on topics such as Web marketing, search engine optimization, Web site design, copyright issues for developers, etc., that will help make developers and users of Alpha Five more successful -- in addition (of course :)) to the use of Alpha Five Platinum with all its cool new features including client-server, Ajax, drill-down reporting, supercontrols, etc.)
Alpha Five Platinum's hyperlink Supercontrol also allows you to place a hyperlink on a form rather than a button. When you click the hyperlink an event is triggered. It's super easy. And super cool. Take a look.
Last week, I published the first in our series of AJAX capabilities in Alpha Five Version 9 Platinum. Today, I'm going to share a little bit about what we've done.
As any professional developer knows, Web applications that employ AJAX techniques are now very popular. AJAX UIs are clearly the wave of the present and future. But programming AJAX applications typically adds complexity to the development process.
To see sample pages that use AJAX, see the sample Web Application that ships with Alpha Five Platinum. Select the "Sample and Tutorial databases" button on the Welcome screen when the application starts up, then select the "Application Server Demo" database.
In a traditional Web application, when the user clicks a button or hyperlink on the page, the data on the page is sent to the server, and the server sends back a new page for the browser to display. This means the server is doing a lot of work on each round trip because it has to re-compute the html for the whole page, and then send that back to the browser. So there are two sources of delay: the time taken by the server to re-compute the whole page, and the network transport time for sending the whole page over the internet.
Every AJAX application starts with the browser initiating an AJAX callback to the server. The two key functions in the Alpha Five AJAX Forms Library that are used to initiate an AJAX callback to the server are
Next time, I'll cover everything in the a5_AJAX_Callback() function, so stay tuned.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
One of the most powerful aspects of the HTML form supercontrol is "Property Binding," in which a property on the HTML form (e.g., the border color on an input control) is bound to an expression. This allows you to easily color the border of the input control if an expression evaluates to a certain value. Watch this video to see how.
Monday, March 24, 2008
It's Alpha Platinum's HTML Form -=* S U P E R C O N T R O L S *=- (Trumpets, please!)
We've done a lot with this new feature, so each day this week I'll give you a taste of what you can do with them. (We didn't call this feature "super" for nothing!)
I'll start by describing what an HTML Form Supercontrol is. This new component lets you design parts of your form (or Xdialog) using HTML. That allows you to create appealing forms that take full advantage of the layout power of HTML and CSS.
HTML forms can contain fields from the table on which the form is based, and Alpha Five automatically binds the fields in the HTML form to the physical fields in the underlying table.
Check it out.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Joel Spolsky, the developer behind the Joel on Software blog, this week put up a post about the contrasting approaches that Microsoft is wrestling with in their development effort for IE8. Someone on our team passed the link to that post around, which has generated some internal discussions here, and at least one blog post (mine). Here's Joel's original post. And here's my response on my blog.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
In our post introducing Mapped Tables as a new feature in Platinum, the question was raised: How are mapped tables different from a set?
On one level a mapped table is somewhat similar to a set where there is a one-to-one join (as opposed to a one-to-many-join).
The reason why mapped tables are very useful is that there are a number of places in Alpha Five where it expects to operate against a table and not a set, but where you, the developer, want to include fields or calculated fields from more than one table. In those cases mapped table are the solution.
Here are some examples.
- You want to include data from multiple tables in a Table Lookup Field Rule. The Field Rule editor only allows you to select Tables (not Sets) as the data source for a Lookup Field Rule. To solve this problem, you define a mapped table that joins all of the tables that you would like to use in the Lookup Field Rule, and then when you define the Field Rule, you specify the mapped table as the lookup data source.
- You have a big or complicated Xbasic script that operates against a certain table. Your script makes certain assumptions about the field names in the table. You would like to run this script against another table that has the same fields, but with different names. To solve this problem, you create an updatable mapped table that makes the table "appear" as if it has the same structure as the original table that your script was designed to operate against. You then run your script against the mapped table. (Depending on the situation this may be a much more elegant less time consuming solution than re-writing the Xbasic script itself to match the new table’s field names.)
- You want to define an Export Operation and include a calculation in your export definition. For example, your table has a Quantity and Price field, and you want to export these fields, as well as a Total field (Quantity * Price). The Export Operation builder does not allow you to define calculations. To solve this problem, you create a mapped table that has the Quantity, and Price fields, as well as a new calculated field called Total. You can then define your Export Operation on this new mapped table.
- Sets don’t let you hide fields. Mapped tables, on the other hand, let you include only the fields that you want to appear in the mapped table and this way you can be sure that certain fields don’t show up in forms, browses and reports.
It's always been possible to create date fields in grid and dialog components with associated "date pickers." But in previous Alpha Five versions, when you clicked the icon to open the date picker, a new window was opened, which took some time. Now when you click on the icon, the date picker opens up instantly. That's right, instantly. Go ahead and see for yourself.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
One word: AJAX.
There's a fast growing community of Web developers and users who are very excited about AJAX. Most developers have a passing understanding of AJAX; some have no understanding at all. Maybe that's because they're too busy finishing today what they were wanted to finish yesterday.
But make no mistake about it: That thunderous sound you hear in the distance is the AJAX tidal wave, and it's headed your way. AJAX is one of the hottest trends in both application development and the user experience today. And as a vendor of application development software, we need to keep our finger on the pulse of what developers are interested in, and bring our value-add to the party.
What's our value add? Traditionally, it's "making development faster and easier for developers." While AJAX apps provide faster, more interactive, and friendlier applications that simply look and feel better, they're also incredibly complicated to develop and debug. There's quite a learning curve. That's why AJAX is a perfect hairball for the Alpha team to unravel.
For developers, the rise of AJAX is s similar to when Windows first appeared on the market. People had to hand code windows, menus, title bars, and all the other low-level interactions until the first frameworks emerged. Then building Windows applications started to get easier.
Frameworks such as Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC) and other third party tools took off. Then came Visual Basic, arguably the first IDE that made it drag+drop easy to build Windows applications visually. The rest, as they say, is history. Everybody jumped on the visual development bandwagon.
The same thing is happening today on the Web with AJAX. Many developers are coding AJAX apps by hand. Some appdev platforms now have frameworks to simplify that. The problem is, you still have to marry yourself to someone's framework, and get your head around the framework's intricacies before you can boost your productivity.
At Alpha, our approach to AJAX is the same as it's been to everything else. How do we make this visual? How do we keep the "rapid" in RAD? How to we insulate developers from having to commingle and debug a half-dozen coding languages in a single app? How do we eliminate -- and if not eliminate, absolutely minimize -- the need for hand coding to take advantage of this next big thing called AJAX? HOW DO WE KEEP PRODUCTIVITY HIGH? HOW DO WE PUSH IT HIGHER?
That's been our approach in Alpha Five Platinum as well, and you'll see this in play with our new AJAX support. We are now producing a series of blog posts to take you through the new AJAX features and capabilities, including video demos of A5V9 in action, and how to code with it.
Normally this is where I'd tell about what AJAX is and why it matters. But it's the Internet age, I'm not going reinvent the wheel. This wheel is already turning at Wikipedia, and the Mozilla Developer Center. Stay tuned for the series of AJAX posts. I promise it will be exciting. ;)
I told you how I had met with InfoWorld's Martin Heller. Well, yesterday Martin posted his first impressions of Alpha Five Platinum beta.
That rumbling sound that folks in Burlington, Mass. heard yesterday was the entire staff of Alpha Software doing backflips in our office, as e-mails of Martin's comments made their way around the company. It was a moment of release for the team that has been under immense pressure to produce the best version of a product in its 20 plus year history.
More important, our efforts to evolve Alpha Five from a product that is still perceived as a consumer desktop database application into a robust, enterprise database application development and delivery platform were validated by Martin's experience, testing, and commentary.
I'll leave the reading of his article to you, but the obvious take-away is one of the world's most respected enterprise developers, Martin Heller, at one of the world's most respected IT publications, has said Alpha Five Platinum beta is worthy of your consideration as an enterprise platform. We think that's a huge win.
The best part is this comes on the heels of being the finalists for best IDE at the DDJ Jolt Awards. We're starting to feel that maybe we got this thing right.
Alpha Five has always had plain text and Rich Text (RTF) memo fields. Now, with V9, you can create HTML memo fields as well. HTML memo fields offer more formatting power than RTF memos, and they allow you to include rich media types such as images, videos, and hyperlinks in your memos. As you can see in this video, making HTML memo fields more flexible lets you deliver a more polished final product to your users.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
We've made some super upgrades to Xdialog capabilities in Alpha Five Version 9; in particular, the embedded Xdialog supercontrol, which extends the functionality of your forms.
With this new tool, you can draw a window on a form, and embed an Xdialog in the window. The Xdialog can have input controls (e.g., text boxes, list boxes, radio buttons, check boxes, etc.) that can be automatically bound to the field in the underlying table in which the form is based.
Take a look at the power of the embedded Xdialog supercontrol.
We haven't stopped there. I'll be revealing a new Xdialog feature each day for the rest of the week, so stay tuned.
Monday, March 17, 2008
A few people have contacted me because they haven't been able to view some of the videos of our new Alpha Five Version 9 features in Mozilla Firefox. The videos were created in the newest version of Flash, and it looks like there's still some bugs in there that need to be worked out. So if you're using Firefox and are having trouble, unfortunately the only thing you can do is wait for the next Flash upgrade. Sorry, guys!
Alpha Platinum now supports mapped tables. These allow you to define virtual tables to display data from one or more physical tables. They also include some or all of the fields in the physical tables, and even calculated columns.
Mapped tables appear in the Control Panel -- just like any other table -- and can be used to build forms, reports, operations, and more, just as you can with physical tables and sets. You can even use Xbasic commands. This video will help you map out the possibilities of mapped tables.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
I had lunch with InfoWorld's Martin Heller yesterday. He writes the Strategic Developer blog. If you're not reading it already, I encourage you to add it to your lunchtime run. ;-)
I'm hoping Martin will be sharing his thoughts on Alpha Five Platinum in a future post. Meanwhile, he posted about our meeting today.
... and in with the new. Editing layouts is now much easier, thanks to our new dynamic guidelines. These guidelines appear whenever you move or resize an object, making it simple to align an object relative to adjacent objects. Take a look to see how. In the case of reports, dynamic guidelines are particularly useful because they make it easy to align column headings, detail section fields, and column footings. This video shows it off.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
The last new browse feature we created is the ability to insert "browse layout controls" when you're editing a stand-alone or embedded browse layout. There are several types of browse layout controls, such as buttons to open forms, run reports, run scripts, and insert icons.
For example, in this video, we use a browse layout control to put hyperlinks in a browse column that open a form to show the current record. And in this video, we put a dynamic icon in a browse column.
Those are customers in the browse, and each customer has a credit rating between 0 and 5. So we put a dynamic icon in the browse column that shows a "five-star" icon for customers with a rating of 5, a "four-star" icon for customers with a rating of 4, and so on.
I can hear those creative juices boiling now ...
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Feature up! This one isn't a big deal, but it's a useful bit o' polish. We've made the size of the slider on the vertical scroll bar proportional to the number of records in the table, and its position proportional to the logical position of the record in the table.
In addition, when you drag on the vertical slider, bubble help shows the key value of the record that would get focus if you were to stop dragging. Watch this video to see these new visual features in action.
Monday, March 10, 2008
I was reading Slashdot, and came across a post where a member asked when a company should ditch its platform. The member's company recently replaced its Web developer, and it seems it had one heck of a time finding a replacement that could work with its existing technology.
Those familiar with Slashdot won't be surprised to hear there were no meaningful answers to the question. Instead, commenters bickered over the direction answers should take, lambasted the member for not giving specific details about the current platform, and attempted to blame all the problems on Microsoft.
While I'm not a die-hard fan of Microsoft, this question is the right one to ask, and I'd like to give a meaningful answer. Sure, I could post this to the Slashdot discussion and be lost in the noise, but that's not productive or valuable. So I'll post here, in our nice, friendly, quieter forum.
The meaningful answer to the question is simple: It's time to replace your technology when it no longer solves the problem at hand. I don't care what the existing technology is -- be it something from Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, an open source project, or our own Alpha Five.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if your platform has a really cool-sounding acronym or all the media's attention, because those things don't run your business or help you earn a paycheck.
Alpha Five -- just like any other software -- is a tool. Tools are what set humans apart from other animals, but only if we use the right tools for the right job. Have you ever tried to change a light bulb with a sledge hammer? I haven't, but I'm pretty sure it won't work well.
When your technology feels too heavy to pick up, you're using the wrong technology.
When a reasonably intelligent person can't adapt to the technology in a relatively short amount of time, you're using the wrong technology.
When you have to work significantly harder than everyone else, only to produce a fraction of the results, you're using the wrong technology.
I'm admittedly biased, but I think Alpha Five is the right technology to solve a wide range of problems facing businesses today. You can check me on that, and let me know if you disagree. Download the trial and see for yourself. I think you'll be impressed with what you can accomplish in a very small amount of time.
Conversely, if you're an Alpha Five user, download some competing product trials and see what they can do. If you can find something that lets you get more done with less effort, (A) it's time to switch, and (B) I'd love to hear about it.
The winners of the Dr. Dobb's Jolt Awards were announced last week. I was there, in San Francisco, for the gala event. It was a gas.
We didn't take home the Award, but I still feel like a winner. Before I explain why, I'd like to first extend our sincere congratulations to the NetBeans community, which won the Jolt for their NetBeans IDE 6, this year's pick for best development environment. They won the slot last year, too.
We came close, but didn't get the cigar. I suspect, but have not confirmed, that part of the reason was due to our focus on database applications, whereas NetBeans is a generic development tool.
Still, simply being in the running against world-class products such as NetBeans and the other finalists was very exciting. It also says a lot about how far Alpha Five has come over the years. To make the short list of the DDJ Jolt Awards is no easy feat.
We're in the company of giants. And our flagship products, Alpha Five Version 8 and the upcoming Alpha Five Platinum (which did not compete, as it is not yet released), are clearly worthy of consideration as top-tier enterprise application development platforms.
Dr. Dobb's hasn't released the full Jolt Award winners list yet, but we'll let you know when it's posted, and where to access it.
Again, I tip my hat to the NetBeans team and all the Jolt Award winners. And I also issue a friendly warning: We'll be back with Alpha Five Platinum :-)
I've shown you how easy it is to create bubble help in your browse columns using Alpha Platinum. Today I'll show you how easy it is to create advanced bubbles that include data, images from the current record, and hyperlinks to Xbasic actions. This short video shows you how to do it.
Friday, March 07, 2008
We've upgraded our browser capabilities in Alpha Five Platinum. For starters, browse columns now have bubble help. The bubble help can be defined using HTML syntax, and can include data from the current record. This video shows bubble help for an thumbnail image. Place your mouse over the image to see the full size.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Static HTML objects are conceptually similar to the traditional static RTF objects that you've always been able to place on layouts. However, the layout capabilities of the static HTML object go way beyond those of the RTF object.
In Alpha Platinum, you have the full power of HTML to style the text in a static HTML object. Plus, you can place fields in the object to show data from the current record, and hyperlinks that execute Xbasic scripts.
Can you do that in your other development platform? Didn't think so. Check out the video on static HTML objects.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
We didn't stop with active-links when we were designing new features for Alpha Five Platinum. Today, let's take a look at some new things you can do with forms.
In this Alpha Five upgrade, we've created what we call "smart fields." You can now turn time fields and short-time fields into smart fields. When you click on the icon in the field, a picker is displayed to allow you to select a value.
What else can you do with forms in Alpha Five Platinum? Glad you asked. You can define your own icon for the smart field, and you can define the associated event code when the user clicks on the smart field icon. Watch this video for a more in-depth look at user-defined smart fields.
Monday, March 03, 2008
The Alpha community is officially abuzz over Alpha Five Platinum. I promised those on the message board that I would reveal the rest of the new active link features today, so without further ado ...
There's new and improved ways to create a single table, and a variety of customizable properties. Here's a three-part video we created to give you an idea of all the options you'll have: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
You can also use an active-link table. These tables show all data in the remote SQL table. Any edits you need to make in the active-link table are immediately persisted to the remote table. This video shows you how, plus all of the power of the new connection strings. By editing the connection string, you can change the remote database that all of the active-link tables in your application point to.
In Alpha Five Platinum, you have the ability to create forms and reports that join data from multiple remote SQL databases, or heterogeneous joins. This video shows an example of an order header table stored on a SQL server, and an order detail table stored in MySQL. In Alpha Five Platinum, you can build a set that joins these two tables. This set allows you to edit and enter data into both databases.
The new SQL query Genie allows you to filter and sort an active-link table. The query Genie is "two way," meaning you can either use the builder to create the query, or you can type it in directly, and it will be parsed and shown in the builder so that you can continue editing in the builder. This video shows you an example.
When working with active-link tables, Alpha Five uses a technique called optimistic record locking to prevent one user from inadvertently overwriting changes made by another users. Contrast this with "pessimistic record locking," which is the technique used when two or more users want to edit the same record in a native Alpha Five table. In pessimistic record locking, when one user begins to edit a record, the record is locked, preventing the second user from editing. This video shows how optimistic record locking works for an active-link table.
We have plenty more features, which means plenty more posts. Stayed tuned to learn more about what Alpha Five Platinum has to offer.