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, July 30, 2008

Alpha enters Entrepreneur Magazine

Entrepreneur Magazine asked me for my views on the ever-present "to outsource or not to outsource" question. Have a look.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Live and learn

I was recently interviewed for an article about how business mistakes become great lessons for success in The Leading Edge Magazine. When you're running your own business, you're faced with critical decisions every day that could potentially make or break your entire company. And if you're relatively inexperienced like my brother Selwyn and I were back in the early 1980s, it's often difficult to walk the line between reckless and overly cautious business practices.

Those of you who have been part of the Alpha community for a long time probably know our story. If you haven't heard the Alpha story, I suggest you read about it, and other business owners' stories about how they turned their business blunders into extremely valuable lessons.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Roll out the welcome mat for our new Chief Security Evangelist

Jeff Kalwerisky has been hard at work evangelizing security best practices for a few weeks now. But as I said before, we often put the cart before the horse here at Alpha. We sent Jeff to work long before we actually announced his arrival.

Well, that ends today, because I am formally introducing Jeff to you as our new Chief Security Evangelist. In coming days, Jeff will be sharing his thoughts and insights here on the blog. Keep your eyes on this space for expanded coverage of all things security, courtesy of our new CSE.

When bad things happen to good data

Hi, everyone. Before I begin my first post on the Alpha blog, I wanted to introduce myself. My name is Janet Park, and I'm a long-time Alpha developer, with a focus on data.

After knowing Richard and the Alpha community for some time now, I'm thrilled to have been invited to take part in the blog. So here goes nothing ...

As a developer, I've come across a lot of "dirty data" stories. So I thought you, dear readers, would like some data cleaning tips.

Step 1. A quick way to find dirty data is to first do a sort, and then an inverted sort, on each field you intend to use. Usually the crap (excuse my French) floats to the top or bottom.

Step 2. Page through in browse mode, and if the file is large, jump through the records in larger batches to see if you notice any pockets of weird data. It'll jump out at you.

Step 3. Once you've identified obvious errors, look for patterns you can fix. For example, Excel likes to decapitate leading zeros in east coast zip codes. Alpha can easily reattach them with a global update. Write scripts to fix simple, recurring problems (i.e., "Jr." in Last Name field = "Dear Mr. Jr:").

Step 4. Run crosstabs on addresses and phone numbers to ferret out the phonies. You'd be surprised at how many people live at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., or have 555-555-5555 as a phone number.

Step 5. Have your data standardized, cleaned, and updated through a CASS-certified mail and National Change of Address System. This is the best way to begin a merge/purge for duplicate records, as it corrects and standardizes address info used in matching.

Step 6. If the data is really awful, go back to your source and ask for a new file. A transmission blip or zip creation error can render a file useless.

Step 7. If you regularly get lousy data from a particular source, think of it as an opportunity to build an Alpha Five front-end data entry system. Prevention is the best cure for bad data. Use field rules, lookup databases, masks, and validation expressions to keep bad data out and make it quick and easy to enter good data.

Stay tuned for more data management tips and tricks from me in future posts!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Your IT "To-Do" list has arrived

Dan Tynan penned an article in InfoWorld today about the Seven things IT should be doing (but isn't)., and featured some of my advice. Have a look. Then do as I and Dan's other sources say {grin}!

Small Business Idea of the Day

We're thrilled that Barbara Weltman, the top selling author and self-proclaimed leading authority on small business, recognized AlphaMailer in today's Small Business Idea of the Day. I'd say that's a great start to the week for the self-proclaimed leading database!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The exciting world of Xdialog, starring Selwyn Rabins

If you're not using Xdialog already, you're totally missing out. Just think about it ...

The humble dialog box is the most common interface element in most applications. It controls most of the action. Yet dialogs are the least noticed by most users. They often appear for only a short period of time. A few clicks later, they're gone.

Sure, users appreciate your well-designed reports, your clearly-laid-out forms, and even your complex, real-time data operations. But for every form, report, or operation you add to your application, it's not unusual to have one or more dialog boxes help the user command the action.

Not only are dialog boxes the underdogs of the user interface, they're also the workhorses. They're the primary means of asking users the Who, What, Where, When, and How that allow the users to control the action.

And when it comes to building these vital interface elements, nothing (that's right, nothing!) comes close to the speed, power, ease-of-use, and all-around good looks offered by Alpha Five Version 9 and Xdialog. (Trumpets, please.) In fact, Xdialog is so capable, much of Alpha Five itself is written using Xdialog.

The correct use of Xdialog can transform a good Alpha Five application into a great Alpha Five application. They can speed your development, add a professional finish, and give users access to features that would have otherwise been too expensive to build, were they built from scratch.

On Monday, July 21, my brother Selwyn will show you how to take maximum advantage of Xdialog in your own applications in his one-time only, live class. Don't miss it! Sign up today!

Xdialog: the Ultimate Guide for Creating Dialog Boxes in Alpha Five
Date: Monday, July 21, 2008.
Time: 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time
Video: You need a PC and a high speed Internet connection to see the video.
Audio: You will need to call a U.S. telephone number to hear the audio
Cost: U.S. $149

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Alpha Five helps make Maryland's roads safer

The other day I was shown a Web application created in Alpha Five Version 9 that automates traffic citations in Maryland. It's not the most complex Web application we've seen built in Alpha Five, but it is one of the most practical.

I wanted to share it with you, because it illustrates another example in which Alpha Five was chosen for its ability to create Web solutions quickly and cost effectively. Have a look.

So ... if you ever get pulled over for speeding in Maryland, and you end up with a ticket, at least you'll know your favorite dev tool played a part. That won't make the ticket any cheaper, but it might make it less annoying.

By the way, one of our PR gals (that cutie, Bridget) spoke with the lieutenant from the New Carroll, M.D., police department had the app built for his force, and a case study with his full Alpha story is in the works.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Let's talk about SaaS, baby

Well, now we know SaaS is real, because Microsoft has finally given it the bear hug -- verbally, at least. As usual, Microsoft is discovering what the rest of us have been working at for several years. That’s no criticism of them, but rather, an acknowledgement that the market is at the tipping point. That’s when Microsoft typically smells the revenue, and jumps in hell-bent for election.

Think of the GUI, the Web … and now, SaaS. This is good news for Alpha's VAR partners, who have been building secure, on-demand database applications that solve myriad vertical requirements since we shipped Version 8 in 2007. And with Alpha Five Platinum, it’s only gotten easier.

If you’re in the Microsoft space, building on .Net, and would like to try what we believe is a more agile, higher productivity approach to building SaaS apps, give our latest baby a try. Download a free trial here.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Getting a leg up ... or four (and a wet nose)

If ever one needed evidence that our quadraped friends help us make friends, this is it! This approach has endless legs (no pun intended).

I was giving a Web/phone demo to a potential customer today. It was going well, but it was kind of stiff, and there was no chemistry. Then I heard a dog bark.

I asked if he had a dog; he said "yes." We put the demo on hold, and I asked what kind of dog he had. When he said, "miniature daschund," I immediately put this image on the shared screen:

These little guys are my cousin in South Africa’s one-year-old miniature daschunds.

Then we resumed the demo ... as old friends! This, once again, proves that dogs are the ultimate “humanizer.” Kind of ironic, no?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Alpha's new Professional Services group has you covered

In typical Alpha fashion, we've once again put the cart before the horse. I told you about Jeff Kalwerisky's spot in InformationWeek before I even introduced you to him as the newest member of the Alpha team. Well, now I'm telling you about a new service we're offering before we have "officially" announced we're offering it. ;-)

We've been building a Professional Services group over the last several months. While we haven't formally announced it yet, the group has been actively engaging clients since the second quarter, and has already completed a number of complex and interesting enterprise database projects. Several other major builds are in the queue, and the pipeline continues to grow. We've staffed up as a result.

Now that we've put all of our Professional Services systems in place, we're preparing to formally roll it out with a press release and some fanfare in the coming weeks. Meanwhile there's nothing secret about it. We've been telling customers about how our new Professional Services group can help them in our newsletter. We thought we'd let you know about Alpha PS here on the blog.

Here's the take-away: We understand not all of our customers and prospects are professional Web developers. But many need a professional Web database. If that describes you, we've got you covered with Alpha Professional Services. We work in conjunction with our certified development partners to help customers get projects of any scope or size up and running. We'll build your project with the speed, efficiency, and effectiveness that can only be achieved with Alpha Five Platinum.

Sound good? Check out our site for more information. And if you're a VAR who is interested in working with our Professional Services group, give me a ping.

Alpha's Jeff Kalwerisky in InformationWeek

On his first week on the job (I haven't even had the chance to introduce him on the blog yet!), Jeff Kalwerisky is already making waves in the media. InformationWeek published an article on "DNS poisoning" yesterday, and they called on Jeff to offer his counsel to readers. As the new Chief Security Evangelist at Alpha, Jeff's been working overtime to spread the security gospel, and he had some thoughtful words of advice for IT managers facing the dangers of DNS hacking. Here's what Jeff told InformationWeek.

As Chief Security Evangelist for Alpha, Jeff is providing input and oversight on the development of our Web Security Framework, an integrated security system developers use to protect applications and data from unauthorized access. He also counsels Alpha Software VARs, customers, and partners on matters relating to application security, compliance, privacy, and governance.

Jeff has specialized in information security and risk management for over 20 years, including a tour of duty as Executive of the Security and Risk Management practice at Accenture. He focuses on information risk, information security governance, and security standards, including ISO-27002, PCI-DSS (Processing Card Industry Data Security Standard), and CoBIT (Control Objectives for Information and Associated Technologies).

He has consulted to Fortune 100 companies and national governments, helping them develop enterprise security governance policies and frameworks, and deploy technology solutions that strengthen information security and data privacy/protection. He also managed security-related projects, including risk assessments, vulnerability testing, and security incident triage.

Jeff was also appointed Principal Security Architect for U.K.’s National Health Service IT infrastructure project, which remains the largest healthcare IT development initiative in history serving 50 million people.

Before Accenture, Kalwerisky was VP of Consulting Services for SecureWare, which pioneered the world’s first Internet bank, Security First National Bank. His work ensured Security First and connected banks were secure, and capable of passing audits by the Office of the Controller of the Currency.

Before that, Kalwerisky served as director of global security for VeriSign where he was responsible for ensuring that affiliates in 30 countries adhered to VeriSign’s rigorous security standards. He also managed an international team of security managers to design, deploy, and monitor these secure data centers around the globe. These centers protected the sensitive cryptographic keys used to electronically sign digital certificates, the life blood of e-commerce.

Kalwerisky is the author of Windows NT: Guidelines for Security, Audit and Control and Security Audit and Review Guide. His executive training courses on the use of advanced technologies for secure e-commerce, such as cryptography and biometrics, have been delivered to executives and developers internationally.

He's a busy guy! And off to a great start! Way to go, Jeff.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Government Computing News: Alpha Five has FileMaker beat

Submitting a product to a reviewer is always a risk, even when the product is great. Clearly Alpha Five v9 has earned a string of positive reviews since it launched, and several more are in the pipeline.

But luck plays a role. You never know who the publication's editor is going to assign the review to. In the case of Alpha Software, we always hope that the editor will have a developer or database expert put the product through its paces. Obviously we have the best shot at a good review when an experienced developer touches the product.

They have the industry knowledge and perspective to understand where the product fits in the market. And they have the skill to design a robust test scenario that challenges our assertions about the product, to see if what we say about it holds up.

On the other hand, it's always possible that someone with zero industry knowledge and little to no programming skill will get the review assignment. People who are accustomed to building solutions in Excel, for example, are not the right people to review the latest version of Visual Studio, NetBeans, or Alpha Five.

Regardless, writers need to eat, and non-programmers regularly end up reviewing products they're not fully qualified to eyeball. This is not to be taken as an insult against those writers. I am certain they do their ready best to be fair, accurate, and balanced. But the fact remains, if you can't code enterprise apps, you can't render an informed opinion about an app aimed at building enterprise apps.

We are also part of the problem. Previous incarnations of Alpha were positioned as "the desktop database easy enough for anyone to use." That was an accurate statement a decade ago. Unfortunately, we did such a great job marketing that concept, it stuck. But with Alpha Five v8 and beyond, we made a conscious decision to target developers of all skill levels.

We introduced Web development capability. We introduced "portable SQL." We introduced a robust security framework. With Platinum (v9), in came AJAX support, Supercontrols, and so much more. Alpha Five Platinum is no longer in the same league as "desktop databases easy enough for anyone to use" (meaning FileMaker, Access, and so on).

By rights, Alpha Five Platinum competes against other powerful development platforms for building serious Web, desktop, and hybrid applications that leverage heavy-lifting databases such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, EnterpriseDB, MySQL, and so on. These include Visual Studio, Java, PHP, Perl, NetBeans, Ruby, ASP ... you get the idea.

And while I can't say anything yet, the features we are working on for the next major release go further into this realm. We are committed to establishing and keeping Alpha Five Platinum as "the ultimate front-end for enterprise data." That's our favorite marketing phrase, because it sums up our vision and positioning for the product. And it accurately describes the role A5V9 can fill.

Now, why am I going on about all this? Because Government Computing News included Alpha Five in a roundup of (you guessed it) desktop databases easy enough for anyone to use. What I find most curious about the review is that the writer focused on desktop development.

Who is developing new apps for the desktop today? Very few people, if you look at the numbers. Nearly all new application development for business apps is targeted at the Internet or intranet.

GCN also lumped Alpha Five in with products that we clearly outclass (sorry, FileMaker) and with products that, honestly, must be on life support. Still, I appreciate the coverage -- because if you parse it, the reviewer makes several good arguments for Alpha Five, such as (I'm quoting verbatim):

o "Alpha Five is a lot more than a database. It’s also a tool for designing extensive Web applications with little or no programming."

o "Strong Client Server desktop support now lets you work directly with SQL Server databases."

o " ... a query optimizer for working with SQL data is new to Version 9, as is the ability to build highly responsive Web 2.0 applications in much less time than in Visual Studio, Ruby or PHP."

o "Perhaps the most important feature to federal, state and local government agencies is a well-designed Web Security framework. This lets you define privileges for users and groups to pages or groups of pages in your Web application."

o "A new feature called super controls lets you place live reports, Web content and PDF documents directly into forms."

o "Alpha Five can create virtual tables, an Extensible Markup Language parser and HTML memo fields with hyperlinks."

o "Alpha Five has FileMaker beat when it comes to advanced features such as script building and Web application development. Alpha Five is probably going to be the choice of developers, and for good reason."

When you read the entire review, it appears, at first blush, that GCN slams us. But as you read on, it's clear that writer Carlos Soto did appreciate Alpha Five's position in the marketplace, and our more muscular feature set.

While he lumped us in with products that can't compete on the Web, can't do AJAX, don't have reporting engines, are weak on security, etc., he did call out those differences, and for that, and his time, we're thankful.

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