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, October 31, 2008

Trick or treat yourself to the ultimate Alpha Five V9 training tool

Happy Halloween, everyone! For everyone hoping to be an Alphaholic for Halloween, today's your lucky day.

On Monday, we sent out a newsletter with a special offer for our Alpha Five Total Training DVD-ROM. In less than two days, we sold over 500 copies.

There's over 65 lessons in the five-hours of video, where we show you how to build secure desktop and Web database applications with reporting and AJAX. Basically, we cover it all. By the time you're finished, it'll be scary how much you know about Alpha Five. Pick yours up today, because they're selling like hotcakes!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Incorporating barcodes in Alpha Five

I've received a number of phone calls and e-mails over the past few weeks from customers wondering how to incorporate barcodes into Alpha Five.

Just in case anyone here has any questions about barcoding (or any other number of actions in Alpha Five), I want to direct you to the Alpha Five Documentation page on our Web site, where you'll find our collection of documents and technical articles.

In particular, there is a three-part series discussing the use of barcodes in Alpha Five. The article was written in 2002, so some of the links are out of date, but the information itself hasn't changed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Customer conversations: a chat with NCPD's Lt. Hartnett

In September, Richard posted an Alpha case study we recently completed with the New Carrollton Police Department. NCPD's Lt. Richard Hartnett used Alpha Five to build a database that lets officers file electronic incident reports using the mobile computers in their squad cars, instead of having to fill out tedious and time consuming reports by hand.

For the full story, you can read the PDF version of the case study. Or sit back, relax, and listen to my conversation with Lt. Hartnett to get a peek into how we complete these case studies. As you'll hear, our words are taken right from the most important part of every customer success story: our customers.







Thursday, October 23, 2008

Your thoughts on a developer's thoughts

Our post on a developer's thoughts of Iron Speed 6.0 has surprised us with the incredible amount of traffic it's driven. As of yesterday, the number of viewers had topped 1,000. Also surprising was the fact that this post is spreading virally through e-mail. Obviously, this has struck a chord with more than one developer.

We've also received several e-mails and comments from Iron Speed developers, all of which have been positive. In response, one of the blog posts we have in the works is an update to our competitive features grid.

We'll be putting together a migration tutorial and other free online training to help bring you from Iron Speed to Alpha. As part of that, we want to hear from you. What are your issues with Iron Speed, and how can we help you make the switch?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My two cents on MarketWatch and The Wall Street Journal blog

This morning, I commented on Theresa Poletti's MarketWatch article about some Internet startups cutting costs in order to increase their chances of survival during this economic downturn. And once I had the comment bug, I couldn't stop.

Shelly Banjo wrote a post on Independent Street (the blog of The Wall Street Journal) about small businesses doing well despite the rocky economic conditions, but a curious trend in decreasing salaries nonetheless. So of course, I put in my two cents there as well.

The bottom line: The Internet is a resource that companies can harness to cut costs and increase the reach of customers that they can service.

As I said in my comment, necessity is the mother of invention.

The web is a TOOL to serve businesses and entrepreneurs and represents a great opportunity in today's climate for existing companies to become more productive and for people to start new businesses where they see real needs being unmet. None of these business require venture finding and all of them can be started quickly if the right software development tools are used.

Alpha Software donates over $240,000 to TechSoup.org

Last week I told you about our donation to TechSoup, and the free webinar we're hosting with them next Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 11 a.m. Pacific time. Well, the press release officially hit the wire today. Read on below for more information.

Alpha Software Donates over $240,000 to TechSoup.org

Alpha donated more than 600 copies of Alpha Five through TechSoup’s philanthropy service to help nonprofit organizations build desktop and AJAX web applications rapidly

BURLINGTON, Mass. -- (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Alpha Software has directly supported the database needs of over 600 nonprofit organizations by its donation of over 600 copies of Alpha Five through TechSoup.org, amounting to more than $240,000. Organizations benefiting from this donation effort work for a range of causes, include cultural awareness, community service, juvenile delinquency prevention, community health planning, convict rehabilitation, low-income housing, and more.

These organizations now have access to an easy-to-use, world-class database so they can build custom applications to better and more effectively manage their agencies. This is further evidence of Alpha’s commitment to worthy causes. Alpha recently introduced a new discounted pricing model for schools and students that drastically reduced the cost of Alpha Five.

“We appreciate the men and women who toil to improve our communities and help those who need help most,” says Richard Rabins, Co-Chairman of Alpha Software. “TechSoup Stock is a great way for any company to share what we know and do best. In our case, that’s building better database tools. When I think about the fact that Alpha Five will be powering some truly socially responsible applications, it strengthens my sense that our technology is doing something meaningful in the world. I encourage all my colleagues throughout the information technology industry to seriously consider supporting TechSoup.”

To get these organizations up and running as quickly as possible, TechSoup is partnering with Alpha Software to offer a free webinar on building Web and desktop databases applications with Alpha Five on Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 11 a.m. Pacific time. Developers can sign up for the one-hour presentation by Alpha developers Chris Peters and Steve Workings by emailing marketing with the words "non profit" in the subject line.

TechSoup is powered by TechSoup Global one of the country’s oldest and largest nonprofit technology assistance agencies. The organization offers nonprofits in over 20 countries a one-stop resource for technology needs by providing free information, resources, and support. In addition to online information and resources, TechSoup Stock offers nonprofits donated and discounted technology products provided by corporate and nonprofit technology partners.

TechSoup Stock is open to all qualified 501c3 nonprofit organizations. For more information, please visit the TechSoup Stock eligibility section. Or for more information on Alpha Software or the company’s donation distribution, please contact Kate Ritchie at mailto:%20KateR@GregoryFCA.com.

ABOUT ALPHA SOFTWARE

Since 1982, Alpha Software has been providing developers with award-winning tools that make it easy to rapidly build robust database and business applications. Today over 1 million developers rely on Alpha Software’s flagship platform, Alpha Five, to build desktop, client-server, distributed, Web 2.0, and AJAX applications for organizations of any size—from SOHO to the Fortune 100. Every day, tens of millions of people and businesses rely on applications built in Alpha Five. With the introduction of Alpha Five Version 9 Platinum Edition in 2008, Alpha Software set new standards for speed of development, portability, reporting, and security for database applications of all stripes. The company is privately held, and based in Burlington, Mass. Alpha Software can be found on the Web at http://www.alphasoftware.com.

PRESS RESOURCES
Media contact
Kate Ritchie
610-642-8253, ext. 162

KateR@GregoryFCA.com


Alpha Five Platinum microsite
http://www.alphasoftware.com/alphafive/platinum/index.asp


Alpha Software blog
http://blog.alphasoftware.com/

Alpha Software home page
http://www.alphasoftware.com/

USER REFERENCES, IMAGES, AND PRESS EVALUATION COPIES AVAILABLE ON REQUEST.

Review copies available: PRESS & BLOGGERS ONLY

Alpha Five by the book (or should I say "buy the books?")

I was on the phone with a client who complained that there weren't any good books for learning Alpha Five. That was painful for me to hear, because there's actually a complete library of titles focused specifically on helping novices and professionals alike learn Alpha Five. Apparently we haven't done an optimal job making sure everyone knows this.

One of our big initiatives this year is training. We've held a number of tutorials and webinars, and more are on the way. And we also have a number of hard copy and electronic books available, covering everything you could possibly want to know about Alpha Five.

Our newest PDF package, Alpha Five Version 9 Made Easy and Alpha Five Web Applications Made Easy, is part of our push to empower people to create desktop and AJAX-enabled Web database applications. The two-volume set from Liberty Manuals is authored by Susan Bush, a experienced Alpha Five user and writer, and an active member of the Alpha Five community.

Her books divide the process of using Alpha Five to build applications into manageable segments. Everything is thoroughly explained and illustrated. Together these PDF volumes comprise over 1,000 illustrated pages.

The complete table of contents for Alpha Five Version 9 Made Easy and Alpha Five Web Applications Made Easy are available for you to get a better idea of everything that's included inside.

All electronic and hard copy books are available at the Liberty Manuals Web site. Prices start at $19.99.

Monday, October 20, 2008

How to choose the right programming language

In a recent InfoWorld article, Peter Wayner talked about how to choose the right programming language. As you can see in the comments, the article elicited some rather visceral reactions from a number of developers.

This is an example of how people tend to get a little uppity when a publication or pundit tells them which language they should choose. I commented too, because despite what you might hear, there's only one way to choose a programming language: Select the tool that meets the needs of your application.

Here's the comment I posted:

There's only one way to choose a programming language: understand the application requirement, and choose a language and/or dev platform that best meets it. No one language is right for every task. If I am coding an embedded app, I'd personally opt for C or Java. If I'm coding a Web database app, I'd opt for Alpha Five. If I'm coding a Windows system tool, I'd probably opt for a .Net language or C++. The #1 rule of app dev: CHOOSE THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB.

Take a look at the article for the full story.

Friday, October 17, 2008

FREE webinar with TechSoup: Develop your own online database with Alpha Five

We haven't sent out our official press release on this yet (I know, I know, spilling the beans again), but Alpha Software has donated 600 copies of Alpha Five to TechSoup to be distributed to 600 qualified nonprofit organizations.

TechSoup is one of the country's oldest and largest nonprofit technology assistance agencies. The organization offers nonprofits in over 20 countries a one-stop resource for technology needs by providing free information, resources, and support. And they offer nonprofits donated and discounted technology products provided by corporate and nonprofit technology partners, like us!

TechSoup immediately caught the attention of Alpha, because we appreciate the men and women who toil to improve our communities and help those who need help most. It's a great way for any company to share what we know and do best. In our case, that's building better database tools.

When I think about the fact that Alpha Five will be powering some truly socially responsible applications, it strengthens my sense that our technology is doing something meaningful in the world.

To get these organizations up and running as quickly as possible, TechSoup is partnering with Alpha Software to offer a FREE webinar on building Web and desktop databases applications with Alpha Five. The webinar will take place this coming Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 11 a.m. Pacific time. If you are interested in registering please e-mail Marketing@AlphaSoftware.com with "non profit webinar" in the subject line.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A developer's thoughts on Iron Speed 6.0

Ironspeed Designer recently announced the upcoming release of the latest version of their .NET code generator product. As is their custom, a webinar was held this week to show the latest features and updates to their product prior to shipping.

Jim Dusoe, Alpha user and a BMSI Software developer, attended the webinar, and wanted to share his opinion of the new Ironspeed 6.0 with you. Instead of interpreting what he said in a very detailed letter to me, I'm just going to copy it, verbatim, here for you to review.

In my opinion, they are making some fundamental errors in the direction they have chosen to go, and will most likely continue to frustrate developers and lose customers.

First, let me briefly tell you of my experience with Ironspeed. I have primarily been a Visual Foxpro, SQL Server and ASP developer for many years, making the decision to use MS products as my development platform. Over the years, like most developers, I have created foundation classes and certain methodologies to try to enable as much code reuse as possible. I have been successful with that for VFP, but knew that web-based apps were definitely the direction I needed to go.

Unfortunately, every attempt to try to move to other platforms (Visual Studio, VB and misc open source tools/other development environments) all meant a MUCH longer development cycle, even if I was to become proficient in a particular language.

After creating several web applications using both classic ASP and .NET approaches, I started looking for an alternative that would help to shorten the development life cycle.

Enter Ironspeed Designer. After reviewing several options, there were a limited number of companies that provided any substantial time savings in application development or that created a useable application.

ISD provided 80 to 90% of the typical CRUD (CReate Update Delete) functionality that often takes so much of a developer's time. Their approach is to generate multiple SHOWTABLE, ADDRECORD, EDITRECORD, SHOWRECORD pages based on the database schema. In fact, this is fairly well implemented, but relies heavily on a properly designed database. I was successful in creating some reasonably sophisticated applications, with my goal being to try to avoid manual coding as much as possible.

Through this process I began to discover some of the shortcomings. Ironspeed makes no bones about the fact that they are a Code Generator and not an IDE. It has become apparent that they intend their product to be used with Visual Studio to create and maintain any significant application. One of the core problems for me was the lack of layout control.

With ISD, you are locked in to their styles, with no simple way to edit record rows or field controls without manually writing HTML code. Trying to bring it into Visual Studio was not viable as you could not generate any kind of WYSIWYG view of the final layout. Your only option is to manually hand code the HTML, recompile, launch the application, then view your page.

This obviously takes a good deal of time, and each compilation requires a full .NET recompile. Their approach means that you need to purchase not only Ironspeed, but if you intend to do any significant modifications, you will need Visual Studio as well.

Page Layouts

ISDs approach is to provide fixed table and record layouts, with configuration options. Rather than provide control over the position and style of individual panels and controls, you must select from a list of preset page styles.

ISDs ongoing addition of page types speaks rather strongly to the fact that the user base has been demanding more layout control. I think it is a fundamental error in direction to head where they are going. In fact, they rather casually dismissed the fact that you can no longer drag and drop controls (buttons, text, images, etc.)
but that you would have to manually enter code to insert ASPX controls.

I can see no good reason for them taking this step backwards.

Features

One of the things that strikes me is the features that were presented today are already incorporated into Alpha 5 V9.
  • Live preview
  • Configuration pane (in conjunction with live preview)
  • Email page option
  • New page types to address layout needs
Although they avoided a WYSIWYG display in the past, they have given into the need for a preview of the active pane, something the ISD community has been requesting for some time.

As I mentioned early on in our conversations, I have found that Alpha 5 provides an excellent balance of drag and drop, action script based development, xbasic code and HTML/CSS editing capabilities which allows you to go as deep as you need to for your application.

Ironspeed does NOT have:
  • An IDE
  • WYSIWYG layout
  • Ability to create desktop application
  • Inline styles
  • Drag and Drop controls
  • No quick HTML view (used to be in prior version for quick HTML fixes)
There are also little things that I question. Because ISD relies on .NET, compilation times impact the overall efficiency of development. The live preview pane seemed a bit sluggish. And this was connected to a local Northwind sample database. I am not sure that the performance against a hosted database is going to be acceptable.

I've found that working with Alpha 5 has been quite acceptable in the performance arena when it comes to the development process. The work I've done to date has been connected to remote SQL servers, and the performance has been fine.

The live preview panes work well for the most part. Any idiosyncrasies have been resolved by a restart, and to date I've not lost any changes I was working on.

I think something that is going to be VERY significant is the work Selwyn is doing with the AJAX development, especially the grid component. Where Ironspeed needs to create multiple pages, which means multiple round trips to the server for various functions, I can do all my add, edit, delete functions in a single form/grid with no full screen refresh access to controls/functions all managed by the security framework.

This is going to have a HUGE impact on how I create web apps.

Applications BMSI Software has created with Ironspeed include:
  • Vision Payment Solutions (Merchant Account Credit Card Sales Agent Portal)
  • Hybrid SQL Server(SSIS, SSRS, TSQL, etc.), ASP, Ironspeed, Web and Visual Foxpro frontend
  • 1.5 year project, approx. $160k
  • Church Event Management front end (Provides dynamic content for events with
  • start/dropoff date)
  • Communication Timeline (simple task based project management)
  • Document Management System (medical transcriptionists)
  • Simple CMS (Content Management System . page content backend)
  • Misc. small projects
I am looking forward to converting most of these to Alpha 5 in the coming months.
I trust this helps give some insight to what Ironspeed is doing Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts.
Write to me if you have any questions for Jim.

My very own Alpha Dog

Meet Caspian and Teige. These two beauties belong to my next door neighbor, and have become a part of my (and my daughter's) every day life.



My family often babysits -- or should I say dogsits -- Caspian and Teige when their owners are out of town (and even when they're not). In fact, they're around so frequently, I've become rather accustomed to having a furry friend at my feet in my home office.



We've fallen in love with Irish Setters thanks to these two goof balls, and they were a big push of the scale in my decision to finally get my own Rabins family dog. It turns out that another dog from the same litter as Caspian and Teige's is having puppies, so I'm taking the plunge!



The puppies will be arriving this winter, and my daughter and I will choose the next member of our family then. This is very exciting news for the Rabins family, and what better place to share my happiness than here, with you?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Pretend to act surprised: I'm speaking at eMetrics!

Today we made the official announcement of my upcoming presentation at eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit in Washington, D.C. this month.

In typical Alpha fashion, I had already spilled the beans here on the blog (I just can't help it when I get excited), but the press release was released today.

Are any of our Alpha blog readers planning on attending the conference? Feel free to use our comments section to connect with one another before you go. Hope to see you there!



Alpha Software Chairman to Speak at 2008 eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit

Richard Rabins Will Cover the Latest Techniques for Effective Database Marketing

BURLINGTON, Mass. -- (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Alpha Software’s Co-Chairman Richard Rabins will be showing marketers how they can strike gold by using database technology to analyze and act on their Web traffic data when he speaks at the upcoming eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit in Washington, D.C. Rabins and co-presenter Janet Park, an Alpha Five database developer and President of Marketing Frontiers, will share the stage when they present, “How to Discover the Faces Behind your Clicks” at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 23 at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center, Alexandria, Va.

“Most organizations don’t realize that they’re sitting on a wealth of detailed customer information that, when tapped into and used intelligently, can boost sales and revenue growth,” Rabins says. “In less than 60 minutes, we’ll show attendees how they can integrate their existing Web data with easy-to-use analysis tools and reporting, which in the end, will open their eyes to the marketing power of Web analytics. They’ll learn how to clean, standardize, append, slice, and dice their Web data to deliver relevant, targeted communications to customers with the highest buying potential.”

"Most companies are focused on standard analytics reports about visits and pages without realizing how much leveraged value there is in appending that information with company names and addresses and more,” says Jim Sterne, Producer of the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit and Chairman of the Web Analytics Association. “This is a great opportunity to learn how a medium sized company takes advantage of significant segmentation power."

Since its inception in 2002, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit has been attracting marketing managers, Web analysts, and business intelligence experts who want to learn techniques that will increase the return on their online marketing investments. The international conference series is recognized as the premier event for optimizing online marketing value.

ABOUT ALPHA SOFTWARE

Since 1982, Alpha Software has been providing developers with award-winning tools that make it easy to rapidly build robust database and business applications. Today over 1 million developers rely on Alpha Software’s flagship platform, Alpha Five, to build desktop, client-server, distributed, Web 2.0, and AJAX applications for organizations of any size—from SOHO to the Fortune 100. Every day, tens of millions of people and businesses rely on applications built in Alpha Five. With the introduction of Alpha Five Version 9 Platinum Edition in 2008, Alpha Software set new standards for speed of development, portability, reporting, and security for database applications of all stripes. The company is privately held, and based in Burlington, Mass. Alpha Software can be found on the Web at http://www.alphasoftware.com.

PRESS RESOURCES
Media contact
Kate Ritchie
610-642-8253, ext. 162

KateR@GregoryFCA.com


Alpha Five Platinum microsite
http://www.alphasoftware.com/alphafive/platinum/index.asp


Alpha Software blog
http://blog.alphasoftware.com

Alpha Software home page
http://www.alphasoftware.com

USER REFERENCES, IMAGES, AND PRESS EVALUATION COPIES AVAILABLE ON REQUEST.

Review copies available: PRESS & BLOGGERS ONLY

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What customers are saying about Alpha Five e-learning

We've been conducting a number of online training courses for Alpha Five. The courses have been very successful. Here's a sample of the reactions and suggesstions I've been receiving.

If you're new to Alpha Five, I urge you to sit in on the next training course. As you can see here (verbatim), it'll be worth your time.

_________________________
Richard, I attended the course to see what others are doing with Alpha and to see if I could make improvements on any of my coding and design techniques. The course was outstanding and I could certainly see it being useful to others. Additionally, the gentleman that presented the content did an excellent job.

I can say with conviction what a terrific job your company has done thus far and the direction is truly impressive. I know this because I was able to complete a project in a few hours compared to a few days, if I used VS2008. We are doing some development in VS2008 to comply with a request from a vendor, however, Our major claims and customer service portal will continue to be developed with Alpha, as well as, all other future projects.

Only makes sense a few hours vs. a few days. We pride ourselves as being nibble and versatile and we try to leverage any and all technology that can get us there. Alpha is tops on our list!

I would certainly like any information regarding Alpha and its future direction?

Regards,

Adam T.

_________________________
I have to say that it was a great class. I have been working with applications and just starting to working on the web. I can read the books and that but it is nice to see someone do it. Steve did a great job. Was a bit fast at time but I was able to keep up. I would like to have seen more of Ajax and a user control creating an account. Steve kept talking about showing it and maybe he did but I did not notice.
Good class and keep more coming if you can.
Thanks
Dan S.


_________________________
Thank you, Richard. Steve emphasized the Alpha community yesterday; I've never seen anything like it from a software company!

Rob P.


_________________________
Hello Richard,

I thoroughly enjoyed the class. While 6 hours is not alot of time to cover much material, I learned alot. I would like to see more page design with an emphasis on navigation and tabular controls.

Thanks Again,

Steve M.





_________________________
Mr. Rabins

I Just wanted to leave some feedback for the course on building Web apps per your request.

I can honestly say that for being the very first webinar of its topic, it turned out quite well. Steve did a really nice job with staying true to the course outline while providing answers to questions which could have easily led the meeting away from its intended focus.

I will have to say that Steve's class was just to the point of being an overload to people like myself that wanted to absorb as much information as possible in the short period of time. I am curious to see what would change (if anything) in the next meeting.

I was looking forward to the AJAX introduction at the end of the meeting and was disappointed that the meeting hosting service forced the class to be cut short when Steve was both prepared and willing to continue with the Ajax topics. Otherwise, the class was very informative and was a great source of insight of the power and possibilities of alpha five web applications which further justified purchasing alpha over File Maker pro and the others. Hopefully Steve will release a video copy of this meeting as it is a valuable source of well thought out information that cannot possibly be retained in a single sitting..

Well done Steve, Richard, Brett, and all of you at Alpha Software for a great product along with a great support system.

Thanks for everything!

Vince P.


_________________________

Feedback: Excellent course. Steve really gives you a visual working demonstration of the potential power of Alpha Five. I am looking forward towards applying the principles presented and moving forward with our ecommerce web applications. Thank you Brett for guiding me to the last two online courses. They were invaluable.

Randy T.




_________________________
Hi all,

Yesterday’s course was very good. My aim was to get a feeling and understanding of session variables. I am happy to say the Steve answered my questions and sloved my how to’s.

I would suggest that you do another day’s course in Ajax and another one on xbasic / xdialog. I know these are complex subjcts but I feel that there are a lot of people, who like me need to get the initial push.

I write software for a living and need to transfer my knowledge / daily needs to A5 and therefore such sessions are a great service.

Thanks & regards

Noel T.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

There's a place for everyone at ATEC

If you're an Alpha developer, you've no doubt heard about our yearly Alpha Technology and Education Conference (ATEC), and maybe even attended one yourself. This year's conference took place in Atlanta from Sept. 4-6.

Every year, Alpha Five developers from around the world converge for a few days to share best practices, tools, tips, and techniques. But the conference emphasizes more than just theories and concepts of Alpha Five development. Rather, we show developers how to take full advantage of Alpha as both a desktop and Web database development program.

Sound good, but not sure if a full conference is the right place for you to learn more about Alpha Five? Our very own Jerry Brightbill attended this year, and wrote up a fairly detailed summary of his overall impressions of this year's conference attendees. Here are his notes.

Most of the attendees were not full-time programmers. A significant portion were employees of companies where IT or application development was only a part of their jobs. The people in this category used Alpha Five mainly to fill a specific business need, and only learned enough about the product to meet that need. They had limited resources available to commit to a solution.

Nearly all of the application development was on the desktop using the built-in DBF data format, and most coding was limited to action scripting and simple Xbasic. Networked applications were common, but many were using terminal services or some type of VPN, rather than loading runtimes on users' computers and using shadowed configurations.

Most of the small companies represented had some type of IT department, even if it was only one person working at it part time. This IT function typically limited the computer configurations allowed on the users' computers, and was often tasked to do everything as cheaply as possible, which may be why few used runtimes loaded on multiple computers.

There were a few people there who could be considered full-time developers, but most were desktop only. Even the full-time developers used only limited parts of the capabilities of Alpha Five. Some had a commercial product, and limited their knowledge to the requirements of that product.

There were a couple developers who were doing Web development. Interestingly, these developers did almost no desktop development other than reports. A couple had worked on some hybrid solutions, but quickly moved to browser-based-only development.

A number of people were running most of their business processes using databases based on some version of Alpha Five, but very few of these systems could be considered "integrated." Most were built piecemeal with little initial specification development or overall design.

Other data platforms, such as Excel, Lotus Notes, and paper-based processes, were common elements of the overall "system" in use. Most of the interest and focus appeared directed at solving a specific problem, and not on efficient overall design.

Since most of these systems were used by a limited number of users in a controlled environment, a number of elements considered critical in a commercial application were often not a concern. These limited interest areas included usability, scalable designs, limiting user access to program elements, etc.

Some people could be considered "dabblers" or "hobbyists." Overall, the attendee makeup was heavily weighted to people using Alpha Five as a tool to solve a business problem. Previous conferences tended to have a larger proportion of the "hobbyist" element.

Many people expressed interest in alternative data platforms, but cost was a major concern. For that reason, many were looking at open source solutions, such as MySQL. Very few even considered more robust enterprise solutions as SQL Server or Oracle.

There was a lot of interest in Web development, primarily as an alternative to internal networked applications. Surprisingly, there wasn't a large amount of interest in public Internet applications, but that may be because of the makeup of the attendees. Apparently some of the companies hired outside consultants to build limited public Web sites.

Most of the attendees recognized they have to learn new technologies, and the sessions on Web development and SQL were very well received. But there was a reluctance to move away from what they were doing now. As is common in small business, most were working on at least one generation old technology, and many were using Alpha Five Version 7 and Alpha Five Version 8.

A surprising number had not upgraded, as they felt they didn't need Web capabilities or SQL support and the older versions worked adequately. There was some interest in future developments, but most wanted solutions they could use now.

The main reason given for not moving to Web or SQL was the learning curve. Many of the people were fairly new to database development in general, and had struggled to reach the knowledge levels they had achieved. The concept of learning any additional techniques was daunting.

The overall format of hands-on, two-hour training sessions was very popular. Approximately 50 to 60 percent of the people in each section actively participated, while others just watched the projection screens and followed the learning guides. In some sessions, the percentage was much higher, and some a little less. Each session included discussion periods that introduced a number of topics.

Most attendees expressed the importance of face to face discussion periods, such as question and answer periods, breaks, lunch, and even evening sessions. There was a lot of networking when sessions were not being held. All of the sessions seemed to have a lot of interaction between the instructors and the people in the session.
As you can see, Alpha Conferences are excellent learning environments for developers of all stripes and skill sets. I encourage you to attend the next one. You'll be glad you did, and smarter, too!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Security 101: When e-commerce sites make epic flubs

See this Computerworld article about how credit card thieves have been helped by "well designed" software? Jeez Louise.

The Department of Justice is charging 11 people with fraud in what is considered one of the largest and most organized credit card theft operations ever, targeted at BJ's Wholesale Club, TJX, DSW Shoe Warehouse, OfficeMax, Barnes & Noble, Boston Market, Sports Authority, and Forever 21.

The process these thieves used was a "packet sniffer" on wireless networks, which let them see customer logins or intercept transactions when they broke into the companies' wireless network. Once they were logged in with the right access, they could probably see everything, including any stored credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, etc.

Since many login process don't use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), they're easy targets, and the obvious weak link. Even with encrypted passwords, if the login isn't across SSL, the password is sent as clear text on the login request! Trying to encrypt on the client side is worthless, since the code is exposed and easy to crack. It's even easier to capture real-time transaction requests with sensitive data that are made outside of SSL.

Once the thieves had the information, they decrypted PINs, made new cards, and then got cash from ATMs. The Department of Justice says the thieves sold credit card data on Web sites that specialize in trading that information. Millions of dollars were lost. And they operated globally, using offshore banks and other methods to turn stolen data into cash.

The solutions here are obvious. Most advanced e-commerce sites complete all of their checkouts across SSL to block that avenue of attack, but few run all logins across SSL. Even if the system doesn't store credit card numbers or other sensitive data, getting login information could expose other valuable data a thief could use.

From my standpoint, it's hard to believe that this stupid stuff is still going on. We're talking absolute Security 101 here. But, then again, after the Wall Street shenanigans, anything is possible in the Wide World of Dumb.

There's no question that it’s time for some of these negligent IT people -- and their CEOs -- to do the perp walk. The only way to get their attention is by gently squeezing their cajones ... for three to five years.

Jeff Kalwerisky discusses the U.S. government's IT woes with E-Commerce Times

Our own Jeff Kalwerisky chatted with Erika Morphy of E-Commerce Times to discuss the state of our government's IT problems. It seems the U.S. can't get its IT ducks in a row, which is causing some problems in both the public and private sectors. But why can't they get it in order?

According to Jeff, one of the major reasons is the lack of continuity of management. But like I said, that's just one of the reasons. Take a look at the article to get the full story.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Alpha Five Version 9 vs. other leading database development platforms

We've had the Alpha Competitive Feature grid up for the past few weeks now, and have taken all of your comments, comparisons, objections, and amendments to heart as we made our final, mocked-up version. Looks pretty good, if I do say so myself.

If you're an Alpha developer or VAR, feel free to use this to woo new customers. Or, if you think your company needs an easier way to create databases and manage information, give this to your boss.

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