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, May 30, 2008

A5 V9 feature peek #53: Pop up calendar

Alpha Platinum has an impressive list of new and improved Web applications, one of which is the new pop up calendar for selecting date values. In past Alpha versions, a new, relatively slow window had to open every time you clicked on your calendar. Now, the calendar pops up instantaneously because it's rendered entirely using client-side Javascript.

Remember how exciting pop up books were when you were a kid? This video gives you an idea of the joys of being able to view your absurdly packed calendar faster than ever before. Just think of all the time you'll save (and the fun you'll have).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Introducing Alpha Apps

One of the most exciting things for any application development tools vendor is seeing how their tools are actually being used. We see programming as a creative pursuit, as much as it is an engineering and business pursuit.

What emerges from the fusion of a developer with Alpha Five might be a Web site that accepts orders, a business management application that makes it possible to access information remotely, or a database for tracking all business operations -- all of which did not exist before, except in the mind of the person designing screens or scripts.

With Alpha Five, as with any development tool, you start with a blank slate. Add creativity, a little sweat equity, and business acumen, and the result is a program that makes a person, company, or community more productive and effective.

Even with a RAD platform such as Alpha Five Platinum, with its bevy of Genies, Action Scripting, WYSIWYG form design, easy AJAX, templates, and other features that make development faster and easier, you still, essentially, start with a blank slate. Unless a developer can use a template such as AlphaStore out of the box, unchanged, the business requirements they need to automate are unique. And that's where their creativity kicks in.

That's why, again, one of the most rewarding things for us is seeing how people put Alpha Five technology to use. Frankly, the resulting applications are often mind-blowing. Sometimes after I see a demo, I just sit and shake my head at my desk. It takes me a few seconds to recover. It's as if I just witnessed a birth. And no, I'm not exaggerating. I really love seeing and experiencing this stuff.

I'm sure the people behind .Net at Microsoft, Java at Sun, and myriad other languages and tools have the same inspired experience when they see what creative developers have wrought with their platforms.

Which brings me to Alpha Apps. For too long, I have watched, enjoyed, and crowed about the interesting apps our customers and partners create with Alpha Five. I've heard about these in conversations with our VARS, people inside Alpha, and end users. People say have you seen what John Doe did? Have you seen this beautiful interface? Did you see how fast that is? Can you believe he's supporting 1,000,000 transactions daily with that?

But we've done this on a one-on-one basis, with an e-mail here, and phone call there, a chat over lunch, etc. Then I was on a call with my PR guy. I was overflowing with excitement over a new application that a partner is developing to help churches.

And he had heard enough, because I do this to him all the time. He asked, "What's the point in our just talking about these great apps, or writing case studies or press releases?" He suggested we start showcasing these applications here, on the blog, instead, or in addition to other marketing efforts.

You know what? He's right. It doesn't do anyone justice to keep the knowledge of these apps and the Alpha developers behind them amongst ourselves.

So we've come up with the tag "Alpha Apps," and were going to use it to regularly showcase real-world applications built with Alpha Five. It's not so much about Alpha Five, but rather the creative people who develop with Alpha, the people these apps serve, and how these apps help them and their organizations get more done with less work.

Our approach to this is straightforward. Every time we learn of a cool Alpha app, we're asking the developer to produce a demo video. We're asking them to demo their app the same way they would if they were showing it to a prospect, or teaching users how to use it. The focus is simply on what's possible. We don't give them any marketing goals or marching orders other than that, because we don't want to pollute the blog or waste your time with slick marketing glop.

And so (drum roll, please) we present the very first Alpha Apps demo. It's by Steve Wood, a well-known and active member of the Alpha community. Steve put together a fantastic video, which I've embedded below. In the video, Steve shows how he uses Alpha Five to track hits to a Web site.

Steve also produced a high-rez version of the video, which you can download (warning: it's pretty large).

If you're an Alpha user and you would like to see your creativity showcased here, shoot me an e-mail.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Microsoft Expression Web & Alpha Five: Perfect together

Andy Meer, an Alpha customer, put together this document to help developers integrate Microsoft Expression, Dreamweaver, or FrontPage with Alpha Five Platinum to design Web GUIs for their applications. We thought it might come in handy to many of you, so decided to pass it along. Hope you find it helpful.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A5 V9 feature peek #52: Pipelining

Pipelining lets the server receive multiple requests for resources from a client without having to fulfill each request before receiving the next. Because many HTTP requests are smaller than TCP packets, the browser can more efficiently send requests to the server when it knows it needs multiple files, such as embedded style sheets and images.

Think of a pipeline request as a telephone conversation, where both parties can speak at the same time, compared to a walkie-talkie, where each side must wait for the other to finish first.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

There's no free lunch in application development

In case you didn't already know, it's not a good idea to trust your business to just any random startup offering a free service on the Web. That's according to technology blogger Chris Minnick, who posted the above-linked story on Internet Evolution yesterday.

Alpha has been around a good long time (25+ years), and we'll be around for another 25 years (most likely longer than the life-span of any app you build with our tools). Reputation, history, and pedigree are invaluable in IT. And no matter how sexy their demos are, the latest and greatest startups don't have those three crucial attributes.

Add to that the fact that Alpha is a real company with real employees, offices, phones, etc. -- not some open source project with a mailing list that may or may not help you when you need it. And Alpha Five Platinum, our Application Server, and our upcoming Alpha Application Cluster are strong contenders for any database-driven software project, on the Web or off.

I'm not down on open source or the promise of startups. And I don't want to blatantly hawk our product lineup here (nor, I'm sure, do you want to read that). But I do represent a commercial vendor, and I wouldn't be working here if I didn't believe in the value our commercially available products bring developers.

On that note, several months ago we published a white paper that attempts to redefine risk in application development. The executive summary is clear on the marketing objectives we hoped to accomplish with the paper (we're not the smoke and mirrors type). The point was to encourage IT managers to better scrutinize the history of application development tools vendors, and use what they learn to influence their platform choices.

Seems to me that's similar, if not exactly, what Chris Minnick is saying.

A5 V9 feature peek #51: Persistent connections

Alpha Five Platinum uses Persistent connections, which make it possible for multiple requests and responses be sent on the same TCP connection. The TCP connection is the underlying transport used by servers and clients.

Reusing the established connection is more efficient than creating (opening/closing) a new connection for each request. Think of it as a person answering multiple questions during a single conversation, instead of starting a new conversation for each question.

In the case of SSL, the overhead to set up the TCP connection and negotiate the encryption is more significant than creating a standard TCP connection, so the benefit of persistent connections is even greater.

Persistent connections are well supported by common Web browsers, so this new feature can be used with confidence.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Open source database survey: Are you in?

Our friends at EnterpriseDB are conducting a study on the use of open source database technology. The survey is open to all, with no prequalification required.

They're trying to answer some key questions about the use of open source database tech in business today. I'm betting that a lot of our readers and customers would be ideal candidates for the survey {grin}.

If you have a few minutes to spare (there are only 15 questions), hit the survey and tell them what you think.

I'll see if we can get them to give us a peek at some of the more interesting results after they're compiled.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Platinum launched today

It's official: Alpha Five Version 9, a.k.a. "Platinum," has launched. We also redesigned and relaunched our Web site to coincide with the product launch. And more improvements to the Web site are coming.

Seems anticlimactic to formally launch a product in the era of blogging. We've been talking about Platinum here on the Alpha blog since December or perhaps earlier. We've been "leaking" features on our Web site and here for months.

But even though we live in an age of continuous news, for an old hand like me, there's still something special about putting out a news release, making the product "officially available," and stirring up some additional public interest.

Not to mention the SEO value {grin}.

I want to thank everyone at Alpha Software who has worked so hard to make Platinum a reality -- especially my brother, Selwyn; our crack development team; and our early-adopting customers who helped us pound the bugs out.

I hope you download Platinum and give it a serious spin. And please let me know what more we can do to ensure Platinum sustains our goal of being "the ultimate front-end for your business data."

Speaking of which, we're pulling together a new series for the blog, which we're thinking of calling "Amazing Alpha Apps" (triple A; get it?). We'll be posting videos of actual business apps created by our customers, using Alpha Five.

These videos will be produced by the customers, not us, so what you'll see are unscripted demos by the app developers themselves. Keep your eyes on the blog for more.

3 ... 2 ... 1 ... launch!

A5 V9 feature peek #50: Gzip compression

Gzip (GNU zip) is a data compression routine similar to the common Zip file format. Most popular Web browsers support gzip compression, because it provides excellent compression, and is unencumbered by patents. And that's why we added gzip support to Alpha Five Platinum.

If the Alpha application server detects a client (Web browser) supports gzip, it will, on the fly, compress data it sends to the browser if the data is not already compressed (e.g., jpeg images).

In the case of a typical HTML, A5W page, or text data, the compression is usually greater than 70 percent. This means 70 percent fewer bits are transmitted over the wire, boosting the application's apparent speed.

For example, Pipeboost provides an online tool that measures the impact of compression on a Web page. We used the tool to test Example 1.23 in Alpha's application server sample pages. It shows a download speed improvement of over 570 percent (you read that right).

Best of all, you as a developer don't have to do anything special to enable gzip's performance boost. It's baked into literally all Web browsers today, as well as Alpha Five Platinum.

FileMaker Pro, Microsoft Access SQL performance lags

In September, we wanted to see how Alpha Five Version 8 stood up to the latest FileMaker upgrade, so we ran a number of comparison tests. The results created quite a stir in the blogosphere, and our results announcement is still among this blog's most popular posts.

Now that Alpha Five Platinum is out, we decided to rerun one of the tests, and this time, pit Alpha Five Version 9 against both Microsoft Access 2007 and FileMaker Pro Version 9.

We grabbed a table with 1 million rows in a MySQL database, and connected it to all three platforms. The results, once again, are enlightening. See for yourself in this video.

  • The table created in Alpha Five loads instantly.
  • It took Access 19 seconds to load the same table.
  • And it took FileMaker several minutes to load the same table.
We're planning more performance tests with these three platforms, and will be publishing the results here. Stay tuned.

If you have any ideas for performance shoot-outs, or have conducted one of your own and have a video to prove it, let me know.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Law 101 crash course for developers

Alpha's corporate attorney, Manny Torti, wrote some interesting articles covering basic legal know-how for developers. I thought they'd be great to include here, as a service to our customers.

Here's an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of the types of business entities you can create when developing your company. And here's a summary of copyright law surrounding software developers and content managers.

Disclaimer: This legal information is not the same as legal advice. Consult a lawyer if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A5 V9 feature peek #49: Optimistic record locking

When working with active-link tables, Alpha Five Platinum uses optimistic record locking to prevent one user from inadvertently overwriting changes made by another. Contrast this with pessimistic record locking, which locks a record when it's opened for edit, allowing only one user to edit a record at a time.

This video shows how optimistic record locking works for an active-link table.

A business development tool for the dogs

My thoughts about cricket as a relationship development tool are well known. But there's another bizdev approach I've been using far longer, and it's got legs. Four, in fact. Furry ones.

Being a dog lover is a trait shared by countless business contacts, partners, clients, and prospects. I've bonded with many, many people simply through a shared affection for dogs. It seems to happen at least once a day, sometimes multiple times a day.

Bringing up and talking about dogs has to be one of the easiest ways to get a conversation going, and strengthen a relationship. Case in point: I was asked to speak with Robert Mullins, a senior editor at SD Times. He wanted to discuss Alpha Five Platinum, which he ended up covering in his online column.

But during the call, somehow the conversation veered off topic, and we ended up discussing our company's mutual "bring-your-doggie-to-work" policies. That spilled over to e-mail, and I soon had Robert's photos of his dog, Yankee, in my inbox. Here's the pooch.

Yankee is the first dog Robert owned. He joined the Mullins' household in 2005, after his previous owner (a woman Robert used to work with) died of cancer. Robert had already bonded with Yankee, because he walked him when his original owner fell ill.

Robert told me his greatest joy is coming home after a long day, and cracking the door open about six inches. That's when Yankee's happy, panting snout pokes through. Robert says his relationship with Yankee is best described by this quote, which I think any dog lover can identify with:

"The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him, and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too." - Samuel Butler

Here's a parting shot of Yankee.

Don't you just want to give him a Milk-Bone?

I've wanted to write about this topic for some time, because I have lots of "dogs as a business development tool" stories to share. Next up I'll share the special relationship my family has with two Irish Setters.

Platinum buzz continues just covered the launch of Platinum.

Friday, May 09, 2008

A5 V9 feature peek #48: Client and server side queries

When you run a query in Alpha Five Platinum, records can be ordered and filtered on the client side or the server side, using your SQL data source. For data sources that contain thousands, millions, even tens of millions of records, you'd probably choose to have the records filtered on the server side to improve performance.

If you're not sure whether to run your query on the client side or server side, let Alpha Five decide for you. Platinum will examine the size of the data source, and make an intelligent decision.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A5 V9 feature peek #47: Query Genie

Alpha Five Platinum's SQL Query Genie helps you filter and sort your active-link tables with ease.

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'll be parsed and shown in the builder. You can then edit it inside the builder.

This video gives you a little taste of the Query Genie.

We're doing our best to grant developers way more than just three wishes. ;-)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A5 V9 feature peek #46: Data from different backends

Another powerful Alpha Five Platinum feature for active-link tables is heterogeneous joins, which lets you create forms and reports that literally join data from multiple remote SQL databases.

In this video, we show an example of an order header table that's stored in a SQL server, and an order detail table that's stored in MySQL. An Alpha Five set is built that joins these two tables. And a form based on this set lets us edit and enter data into both databases.

On the next page, you'll see a form that was created using this heterogeneous join.

Everything you always wanted to know about sex (but were afraid to ask)

In the 1970s, Everything you always wanted to know about sex (but were afraid to ask) caused a sensation. Even though the book appears after the so-called sexual revolution, it was revolutionary, titillating readers with answers to many (if not all) forbidden questions.

Today we just logon and Google whatever topic we're curious about, sexual or otherwise, and get our information in detail, complete with text, images, video, and virtual demos.

Now get that dirty thought out of your mind. That was just a setup for a post on AJAX. I Googled AJAX today, curious about what educational resources are available for developers. One of Google's top recommendations was the W3School's section on AJAX.

I knew programming AJAX was complicated. If it wasn't, there wouldn't be a need for AJAX frameworks or Alpha Five Platinum's near-zero-code AJAX support. While AJAX makes things simple for the end-user from a GUI perspective, and improves performance for an application from a developer perspective, learning it is not a trivial task.

For evidence of this, just visit the W3School's section on AJAX. For those of you that don't know, W3Schools is a respected and popular free resource for people who want to learn Internet development.

It covers basic HTML, XHTML, XML, SQL, database, multimedia, WAP, and now, AJAX. Their AJAX coverage is excellent, and should be a great resource for any developer.

But the point of my post is not to send you to their site to spend 6 weeks or 6 months or 6 years mastering AJAX. Rather, I want to point out how much you need to learn to take advantage of AJAX, and how little you have to learn to take advantage of Alpha Five AJAX.

In Alpha Five Platinum, putting AJAX to work typically means only one, two, or a few lines of Xbasic code to enable AJAX functionality. And in future versions, our goal is to eliminate ALL manual coding for AJAX.

So spend a few minutes perusing what you don't have to learn if you want to take advantage of AJAX in Alpha Five. It will make you feel like you're relaxing on the beach, sipping an umbrella drink, while other developers are stuck in summer school.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Forrester can't see the forrest for the trees

I just posted a lengthy (and somewhat knee-jerk reactionary) comment on Computerworld, which covered a ridiculously flawed Forrester study that claims AJAX is not ready for prime time.

As any professional developer working with AJAX knows, AJAX is not only ready for prime time, it *is* prime time.

Programmers can build inefficient AJAX apps just as they can build inefficient non-AJAX apps, or desktop apps. And developers are still building their skills around AJAX, so it's no wonder some of the early implementations are not fully optimized (which is one reason why doing AJAX in Alpha Five is a smart move, because we've done the optimization for you).

I'm getting myself worked up -- again. Rather then hammer you with my thoughts here, see my comment on Computerworld's article.

A5 V9 feature peek #45: Flexible connection strings

Alpha Five Platinum gives you granular control over your active link connection strings. It even lets you change the remote database that all of your application's active link tables point to.

Plus, any edits made in the active link table are immediately saved to the remote table. How's that for efficiency?

Take a look at this video to get a glimpse of the full flexibility of connection strings in Alpha Five Platinum.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Fanning the AJAX flame

The response to the AJAX features that we put into the initial release of Platinum has simply been off the charts. That's the good news.

The bad news is, we've opened Pandora's box. Developers are pummeling us with requests for more AJAX capabilities. And everybody has their own unique needs they'd like to see met.

We're listening, taking notes, and banging out code. Literally a day doesn't go by that we are not pumping more "easy to use" AJAX capabilities into Alpha Five Platinum.

The goal for us is not just to roll in AJAX features, but rather, to make AJAX-powered Web databases easy to build. That means little or NO coding (and no coding is always the ultimate goal).

Here's the latest update of the AJAX features in Alpha Five. As we bring more AJAX features to the fore, you'll see them appear at that link, and here on the blog.

A5 V9 feature peek #44: Field names and definitions

Alpha Five Platinum lets you override the definition and names of the fields in your active link tables. For example, if a field in your back-end data source has a field name that was cryptic or non-intuitive, you could give it a friendlier name that's easier to work with as you build your application.

That's a wrap: PC Advisor features A5V9

Our PR expert in the UK, Kathryn Lamb, scored a nice hit for the Alpha team this week. A trial version of Alpha Five Platinum is shrink-wrapped in the June issue of PC Advisor which sells about 70,000 copies a month. Here's what the issue's cover looks like.

In the U.S., the market for "dead trees" versions of tech magazines contracted dramatically in recent years. Most of the eyeballs are now online.

Not so in the U.K., where tech pubs still enjoy profitable circulations, and lots of newsstand real estate. And bundled CDs are one of the principal catalysts of newsstand sales. U.K. readers can't get enough of them.

Go figure. You would think that downloads would have killed the bundled CD by now, but it just hasn't happened.

A virtual Virtual Private Server tutorial

We've had a surprising amount of interest in my recent post about VPS support in Alpha Five Platinum (or maybe not so surprising, when you think about it). That post became the most-read article on the blog, outperforming all other posts 300 fold. Pretty amazing. And it tells you something: this is a feature people really want to take advantage of.

To recap, you can now host your Alpha Five apps with any ISP, easily. Given the popularity of my initial post on VPSes, I asked Dave McCormick if he could produce a quick tutorial on the topic. Dave has just posted a 14 minute step-by-step video tutorial that shows you how to get your Alpha Five v9 Web apps online at virtually any ISP on Earth.

You can watch the high-rez video (link above), or watch parts 1 and II here.

It could be the best 14 minutes you'll spend this week.

Friday, May 02, 2008

A5 V9 feature peek #43: Active link tables

In Alpha Five Platinum, you can let Alpha Five define the update statements to use automatically, or you can modify the statements yourself. You control the code used in updates, inserts, and deletes. You can even specify that some of the back-end fields (such as an ID number) are "read only" fields.

To give you more information on the active link builder, we've created a series of three short videos: video 1 | video 2 | video 3

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A5 V9 feature peek #42: Stored procedures

Alpha Five Platinum offers a lot of control over how the links are established, because let's face it, it's all about control. A5 V9 also supports stored procedures to modify how data is written back to the remote tables.

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