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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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jeff Kalwerisky pipes up in Processor

Processor recently published an article on wireless encryption and security, and -- you guessed it -- Alpha's own chief security evangelist Jeff Kalwerisky had a thing or two to say about the topic. Have a look at the article for Jeff's excellent advice on keeping safe while working wirelessly.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Compare Alpha Five to FileMaker Pro and Microsoft Access

Last summer, we hired a third-party professional software reviewer to compare Alpha Five with the other leading database development platforms, feature for feature. Those "other" platforms would be Microsoft Access and FileMaker.

We wanted to provide anyone who is interested in the top three database platforms with a useful, accurate tool that helps them understand the similarities and differences between these platform. The result was our first competitive features grid.

Of course, software platforms are always evolving. And we just updated our comparison grid to reflect the feature set of FileMaker's new version 10 release. If you're interested in how the leading database platforms stack up, have a look at our updated grid.

If you're a journalist or blogger, feel free to download this grid and use it in your reporting. Don't worry about copyright. Just give us a heads up so we can see what you wrote.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Don't miss today's e-commerce webinar!

Just a reminder that our newest webinar, "The Four Pieces of E-Commerce" will take place today at 1 p.m. EDT. Hosted by several e-commerce and Web traffic experts, this free one-hour webinar was designed for anyone who wants to create or improve an e-commerce solution for their business.

You'll learn how to put together a world-class product or service catalog, what to look for in a shopping cart, and how to save money on payment processing (and how to avoid the "gotcha" fees). We'll also be covering how to attract qualified customers.

As of this morning, we were closing in on 600 attendees. So don't miss your chance and so sign up now!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Roadrunner Drywall builds a stronger foundation with Alpha Five

I've been blabbing about the economy now for just as long as everyone else. And months later, my message is the same: Now's the time to start the business of your dreams.

Shane Mustoe, founder and owner of Roadrunner Drywall, is a long-time Alpha Software customer. For years he's been using Alpha to make his business more efficient. (You'll see more information on that below.)

But Shane also realized that the program he helped create in Alpha Five, TradeContractorPRO, is something that other construction and contracting companies would find highly useful too. So he founded Exterra Software to make that realization a reality.

Our PR gals recently chatted with Shane, and got the full scoop of how he's using Alpha Five to run a more streamlined drywall contracting business. You can read the full story below, or have a look at the full PDF version.

And remember: THIS COULD BE YOUR STORY. All you need is a great idea, a copy of Alpha Five, and perhaps some help from our Professional Services Group.

Customer Profile
Established in 1977, Roadrunner Drywall Corporation is the industry leader in residential drywall construction, with locations in Phoenix; Tucson, Ariz.; and Las Vegas.

Location
Phoenix

Industries
Construction

Situation

Shane Mustoe, Vice President and co-owner of Roadrunner Drywall, found it difficult to manage the company's growing number of drywall contracting crews, which were spread across three cities and two states. Drywall contracting is different than most construction trades. Up to seven crews are scheduled for a single job, and each has a different and equally important role. For example, there are crews for stocking, hanging, cleaning, taping, and finishing. Mustoe would keep track of jobs, lot numbers, dates, phases of jobs, and more using markers and dry erase boards. As the company expanded its business, Mustoe found it increasingly difficult to track job flow and the more than 300 employees working at different sites every day. He couldn't keep the chart in chronological or alphabetical order, and there was no way to index jobs because they were completed at different times. It also became nearly impossible to know project statuses and identify what crew was needed next. Mustoe and other supervisors would have to visit each job site to determine this, an extremely inefficient process.

Solution

Mustoe realized he needed to move his entire job management process to a computer system. Mustoe had previously created a simple application with Alpha Four in DOS after his brother came across an Alpha review in a magazine. He now needed to revamp the entire system to meet the growing needs of his company. Mustoe thought Alpha Five's development solutions fit his needs, and because of Alpha's low cost, knew the price was right. But he knew he needed help. Mustoe turned to the Alpha Web site, where he found Alpha developer Kevin McDuff. McDuff built an application designed to meet all of Mustoe's needs. Mustoe now has a completely customized, ever-evolving scheduling and estimation application at his fingertips. Because the application is so intuitive, Mustoe is now able to automate all project and scheduling information, as well as control all estimating processes. The software has since been expanded to include the full range of activities required to keep the business operating optimally, such as exporting job costing and invoicing information to accounting software. The estimating module allows Roadrunner to quickly prepare estimates for potential jobs, and automatically creates proposals to submit to the contractor. Users enter various measurements for each house plan, and a complete list of materials, labor, and equipment is compiled automatically, resulting in an accurate estimate of the costs for the job that is used to determine the bid price for the project. Once a project is awarded, the data flows into the production/scheduling modules for tracking and scheduling the materials and labor crews needed for the jobs. In addition, the software includes purchasing, job costing, automatic job invoicing, and repair scheduling modules.

Benefits

Mustoe's database system is fully automated, and can be used to manage all of Roadrunner Drywall's data requirements. Mustoe was able to transfer all of his paper files and dry erase board notes online. Now, when Roadrunner Drywall is awarded a job, a supervisor enters the takeoff information into an electronic job file, instead of dealing with layers of paper forms. Each piece of job information-from scheduling to materials to budget-is sent directly from the database to the appropriate department or organization, such as construction crews, accounting, payroll, suppliers, etc. This eliminates human error during information transfer, and ensures the correct worker and vendor gets paid for their job. There's also never a need to enter data more than once, because it's all contained and shared in the database. And now, estimation is completed accurately, in a fraction of the time. Since Mustoe never has to worry about the flow of information, he spends considerably less time on the work sites, and more time ensuring his business is performing at its optimal level. With such a streamlined workflow, only a few administrative employees are needed, which saves costs. The software is very user-friendly, and can be used by anyone with basic computer skills. Alpha Five has become the foundation for not only Roadrunner's continued success, but for Mustoe's growing role and importance in the construction application development arena. Mustoe's Alpha experience has been so positive, he's packaged his application, TradeContractorPROTM, and now sells it to others in the construction industry through his software company, Exterra Software.

For More Information
Alpha Software, Inc.
781-229-4500
www.AlphaSoftware.com

Roadrunner Drywall Corporation
480-948-6870
www.RoadrunnerDrywall.com

Exterra Software
888-270-4730
www.ExterraSoftware.com
www.TradeContractorPRO.com

Thursday, March 19, 2009

AND THE WINNER IS ...

We asked, you delivered, and now the results for the Show Us Your Alpha App contest are in. But before I reveal the big winner, I want to again give a big THANK YOU to everyone who participated and sent us their demos. Over the next few weeks, we'll be showcasing some of our favorites here on the blog.

Today, we randomly selected one name, and that winner is ...

... Drum roll please ... BRUCE FRASER! Congratulations, Bruce!

Bruce is the lucky winner of a brand new MSI Wind netbook and a copy of the upcoming Alpha Five Version 10. Have a look at Bruce's demo.

Bruce is the pastor at Merlin & Fletcher United Churches in Merlin, Ontario, and has been an Alpha customer for quite some time. He bought his first copy of Alpha Software back in 1988. I was going to tell you how old I was in 1988, but I don't want to make anyone feel bad. ;)

Back then, of course, it was the Alpha Four DOS version. Being a pastor in a small church (read "no support staff"), Bruce had to develop his own system for keeping track of people and families in the church.

He bought his first computer in 1987 to use for word processing, but he soon realized how valuable the computer could be for other tasks, such as a database for church people. Before then, it was just a list of names on one or two sheets of paper. The margin was full of scrawls of important facts for Bruce to remember about each parishioner.

Bruce researched all the relational database programs available back then, and found that Alpha was the among the easiest to use, but had the features which all the big products (such as dBase) had.

Overall, Bruce felt Alpha's power and ease of use was far ahead of anything else out there. The ability to use a single menu to select many functions -- as opposed to learning and writing code -- was the key ingredient.

Of course, he's upgraded several times over the years, tweaking the database he developed each time. Over the years, he tried out the competition, but the results were always the same: no one beats Alpha Five.

In Bruce's words, "Ironically, Alpha Five's toughest competition is ... Alpha Five! The program is so good, I haven't bought an upgrade for a few years. Of course, if I was developing for a dynamic Web site, I would be drooling over version 9."

Congrats again, Bruce!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One FREE e-commerce webinar, comin' up

As you probably noticed, this year we've been doing a big push towards education at Alpha Software with our ongoing webinar series. So far, the results have been more than positive, and we've had a ton of participants.

Our next webinar, entitled "The Four Pieces of E-Commerce" will take place next Wednesday, March 25 at 1 p.m. EDT. The free webinar will show businesses how to improve sales by adding e-commerce technology to their marketing mix, without breaking the bank. This knowledge is crucial for small and mid-sized businesses, who typically don't have the skills or financial resources required to compete effectively online.

For more information, have a look at our webinar page. Registration is open, so sign up now! Our webinars have been filling up quickly, so don't miss your chance.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A developer's thoughts on Iron Speed 6.0, redux

One of the most highly trafficked posts on this blog is "A developer's thoughts on Iron Speed 6.0," in which Richard published an e-mail I had sent him about my views of an upcoming Iron Speed release. Well, a week or so ago Iron Speed officially released Version 6.0.

The guys at Alpha reached out to me, and wanted to know what I thought. In all fairness, I know that all new releases have that “shakedown” period to get the bugs out. But Iron Speed appears to be doing the same thing they did to me with the last three or four upgrades I got from them. Each time, I've had to start from scratch to really get things to work properly. They just do not have a good upgrade path.

I haven't had time to fiddle with any development in Version 6.0 yet, but based on what I've read in the press release and Web materials, I can’t imagine there is any way they can possibly compete with the ease of layout, massive amounts of customization, and sheer performance of Alpha Five Version 10.

Iron Speed appears to be doing what WordPerfect did in their time. They gave up their lead position to Microsoft because they simply didn't want to go back to the drawing board to fix fundamental design flaws. Instead, they just kept adding more “page layout” templates, instead of giving users complete control of their pages without having to go into another tool (e.g. Visual Studio).

Iron Speed also has serious problems with upgrading from previous versions. If you check the Iron Speed message boards, you'll see plenty of complaints about that.

This was one of my earlier sticking points with using Iron Speed. If you want to gain access to a significant new feature, you need to plan on completely re-writing your application. It was hit or miss as to whether or not your app was going to be able to run in the next version.

In my experience, every app I upgraded had to be done from scratch. Maybe some of the more simplistic apps would upgrade smoothly, but that was not my experience.

Consider this: In order to begin to address customer needs, they had to add 15 new page types. Compare that to Alpha’s approach with a multi-function grid component that provides all of the add, change, delete, sorting, filtering, freeform layout control, linked grids, conditional formatting, javascript popups, and on and on -- all in a single component.

That's one place to configure, one control to change. Compare that to at least four pages to accomplish the same functions in Iron Speed.

Iron Speed's Quick Layout editor and the reinstatement of the toolbox is a direct result of our last blog post on Iron Speed. They had actually completely removed the toolbar in the original V6 demo (telling the audience they had to manually code controls), and added it back due to the outcry of the developers. And their "new" live preview and e-mail notifications have been a part of Alpha for a long time already.

For some even deeper insight, take a look at the original post. And, as always, if you have any questions about how Iron Speed 6.0 stacks up against Alpha Five, the guys at Alpha are eager to help, so shoot them an e-mail.

Friday, March 13, 2009

LAST CALL: Show Us Your Alpha App contest closes Monday!

We asked for the best demos of your Alpha apps, and you delivered. Thank you to everyone who entered the Show Us Your Alpha App contest. For those who haven't had the chance to send in your video demos yet, now's your LAST CHANCE.

You have until Monday, March 16 at 12 p.m. EDT to record a short tour of an application that you recently built with Alpha Five, upload it to your favorite video sharing site, and send the link to me, Bridget@AlphaSoftware.com.

We'll pick one winner with our random number generator (otherwise known as the sophisticated system of pulling one name out of a hat) from all submissions, and award that person a new netbook, fully loaded with Alpha Five Version 10.

Once the winner has been selected, I'll be showcasing the demos here on the blog.

Good luck!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A developer's thoughts on quality development

I got an e-mail this week from one of our customers, Ron Leunis. Ron is the Director of Operations at Open Business, a European consultancy agency.

Earlier this winter, Ron conducted his own survey reviewing application development platforms such as WaveMaker, Morfik, SmartClient, BackBase, TibCo, and WinDev. Essentially, Ron wanted to see if any of these platforms stood up to Alpha Five, which he had been using for a few years.

What he found was that all of these companies promise easy-to-use Web frameworks, but lack the maturity he's found in Alpha Five in terms of ease of use, development, mature SGL databases, connectivity, and full control of the end product.

This is not an official survey. Rather, it's Ron's personal review of the products mentioned. Real reviews from a real developer. As Ron says, "basically when I got frustrated by a certain feature of lack of it, I dumped the product."

Ron sent us his results, because he thought we'd be interested in what Alpha features really are the most important from an average developer's view point. I'm publishing his list here, and have edited it only for simple typos. Just cleaning it up a bit, as it came to us as a quick note in an e-mail. Thanks so much for your feedback, Ron!

1) Connectivity to all the major SQL databases. But not only just connecting, but giving the tools to connect easy without having to download all kinds of drivers stuff. Once the connection string is defined, Alpha gives you instant access to all tables attributes without having to define anything else (unlike WaveMaker).

2) Not only the cloud. You can still develop when on the airplane. You do not need to be connected to the Internet to develop. Just make a copy of your database locally and develop on. Client Server, Local PC, Local Intranet, Extranet, Web, and all together.

3) Hybrid apps. That's one nobody can match with the Web apps possibilities Alpha has.

4) The multi database connect concept. You can connect to more than one database in one Web page. Most can only connect to one database. With Alpha, you can create a page with (linked) grids that connects to local DBF, Oracle DB, or any other SQL, and probably even with a view over several. This opens great possibilities for applications that take their data from multiple data sources. Quite common in big companies where applications come from different vendors. Business Intelligence applications make use of this a lot and sell for about at least 1,000 times as much.

5) Built in reporting. Something Wavemaker is still promising.

6) Userbase and forum responsiveness. Far better forum response then currently any one of the competition. And this includes Oracle JHeadstart forum!

7) Easy conversion to large scale platforms. In Alpha, you can start with DBF database for prototyping, and easily convert to a large scale database platforms later on. Portability is key.

8) Security system out of the box. WaveMaker makes this available only after paying extra. In most other IDEs, like SmartClient, you will have to program it all yourselves.

What matters most to you about a database development platform?

For more insight from Ron, or if you have any questions, you can catch him on the Alpha message board under username rleunis.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A few words on Alpha's Pricing and Unrestricted Licensing

People are always asking me how we get away with charging prices for Alpha Five Version 9 that are so reasonable compared to our competition and also why our web and desktop deployment licensing plans have so few restrictions.


Well this is the way we see it.

Even when the economy is booming, our best customers know it's never a good idea to pay too much or to buy things they don't need. And while other software companies have come and gone, Alpha Software has thrived for the past 25 years by providing superlative software at fair prices.

In short, we sell software that we'd want to buy at prices we'd want to pay.

Like you, we're in this for the long run, not just to make a quick buck. And we're proud of the fact that the vast majority of people who buy from Alpha Software come back to buy again.

Our fair and simple approach to licensing is another aspect of how we do business that sets us apart from our competitors. If you want to build a Web application, the Alpha application server license lets you have an unlimited number of users per application server.

If you want to build a Windows desktop application our Unlimited Distribution License lets you create and distribute an unlimited number of desktop applications to an unlimited number of users. Users do not need to have Alpha Five installed to run your applications. For more information, take a look at the Unlimited Distribution License product info page.

To get a better perspective, check out the pricing and the licensing rules, restrictions, and requirements of products like Filemaker, Servoy, Iron Speed, Windev, and Coldfusion. You'll soon see that Alpha Five Version 9's great appeal is based on both the product itself and our fair pricing and unrestricted licensing philosophy.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Free Webinar this Friday: Web application with document generation

On Friday at 12 p.m. PT (3 p.m. EST), AlphaToGo's Steve Wood is hosting a webinar to review an advanced Alpha Five Web application he currently has in the works. It's a re-work of an application he built in Alpha Five Version 6, one of the very first Alpha Web apps in production.

This webinar is special, because Steve will also be demonstrating integration with a third party utility that takes XML output from his Alpha application, merges it with a template, and creates output in RTF, PDF, and HTML.

The third party app, StyleVision from Altova, is a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) document template utility that generates "XSLT" files, which Steve uses on his server to generate the final documents from client-generated XML output.

In addition, Steve will demonstrate how to use WatchDirectory (a file watch program) on his server. WatchDirectory fires the merge process off-line, so it will happen sequentially, even if dozens of users are merging docs at the same time. This way, there's no need for Steve to have to implement a more rigorous API process where a command-line utility is available.

To sum it up, during the webinar, Steve will show:

* Data-entry and basics of his Alpha Web application
* How to export XML from his Alpha application
* His very flexible XML output model
* How to create the document template in Altova StyleVision
* How to write the XSLT file
* What's an XSLT, what's an XML Schema, what's an XML
* How to set up the server to create client documents on demand
* How to set up WatchDirectory to fire the command-line XSLT process for the merge

Being able to create complex merged documents out of Alpha could be considered the Holy Grail of application development to many developers. In fact, Steve has tried for years to create an all-Alpha solution. Now, StyleVision is a very nice companion to Alpha Five, and the process is "industry standard."

To join the Webinar, click the Download Software button on Steve's GoToMeeting page on Friday at 12 p.m. (3 p.m. EST). There is no advanced sign up. There's only room for 12 visitors, so sign in early. If you can't make the webinar, or are worried about not making the numbers cut, send me an e-mail and I'll record the session.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Cloud security in SC Magazine

SC Magazine published a story yesterday about the importance of a reliable security framework when it comes to cloud computing.

Working in the cloud is hands down the economical choice for computing. But what organizations and individuals gain in convenience and cost effectiveness, they often lose in security. That's why it's important for you to take control of your security in the cloud.

For the full scoop, SC Magazine called on Alpha's chief security evangelist, Jeff Kalwerisky. Have a look.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Customer testimonial: the Desktop Dispatcher ditches FileMaker for Alpha Five

One of the best parts of my job is getting to hear our customers rave about Alpha Five. There's little else that brightens my inbox like a review from a satisfied customer, except maybe my Daily Puppy e-mail, but honestly, who could compete with this?

The other day, I got a great e-mail from Mark Flemming of the Desktop Dispatcher, and I wanted to share it with you as part of our customer testimonials series. I haven't changed a thing, so here you have it, from Mark's fingers to your eyes. Enjoy!

Richard,

Let me start by saying I am thrilled with Alpha 5. I still have a lot to learn, but what I have learned so far has convinced me to stop developing in FileMaker. Not an easy feat, considering I have been using it since version 3.5 . I not only plan to convert all my FileMaker solutions to Alpha 5, but use it for any new development as well. My only regret is that I won't be able to drop FileMaker completely. I will still need to support my existing clients. At least those who I can't convert :-)

I mentioned in an earlier email, that I found out about Alpha 5 on a FileMaker msg. board. Well I have decided to reply to the thread bragging about Alpha 5. Before I do, I wanted you to look over what I was going to say for accuracy.

Start

In response to recent posts about Alpha 5, let me just say, thank you to the tech net msg. board for bringing Alpha 5 to my attention. After reviewing their product, I have decided to convert all our solutions to Alpha 5 and use Alpha 5 for new development. This is not a decision I make lightly. We have been using FileMaker since version 3, so you know the task ahead (conversion) will be daunting. It is however, a decision that, for the following reasons, was easy to make.

Cost to network our solutions is greatly reduced for the end user. With the package we purchased from Alpha 5, (only cost me $599) we could even make the per seat fee, free to the end user. I can't tell you how many sales we have lost over the years due to sticker shock over the cost of networking FIleMaker. It's like FileMaker never learned the lesson their original parent company (Apple), should have learned, when it comes to getting their software deployed on as many computers as possible.

Development is visually driven like FileMaker and very easy to learn with their, video driven, lessons.

Files deployed on the web, behave more like the desktop solutions. They are not as limited as FileMaker's instant web publishing.

It comes with a built in installation builder. No need for an expensive third party installation program, like Install Shield.

Easier updates for end users. With Alpha 5, we can update just the layouts or scripts of my solution without affecting the data.

We will have to continue using FileMaker to support our existing solutions, but we will be converting our existing solutions to Alpha 5 and we plan to develop any new solutions with Alpha 5.

End

Please feel free to correct any errors or add anything I may have missed.

Do you know if anyone has come up with a FileMaker to Alpha 5 translation guide? I think having some type of guide would be helpful to converts like me. I have a few ideas and would be willing to help develop one if you agree there's a need.

I look forward to hearing form you.

Mark

Mark Fleming Ent. Home of
The Desktop Dispatcher
Phone: 561-714-5240
Fax: 561-967-8189
e-mail: TDD101@aol.com
www.DesktopDispatcher.com
Wow! Thanks for the great words of encouragement, Mark! We truly appreciate your feedback.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Finding the right social media tool: Where do you fall?

Five years ago, if you were talking up the importance of social media, you were cutting edge. Today, social media pundits are a dime a dozen. We've been blogging about social media since we first launched in 2007. And we've been thinking about it since 2005.

When Alpha started, we reached out to our customers by direct mail, as did most companies. Fast forward to 2009. No one has the budget needed for outreach like this. Social media, which until this point didn't seem worth anything, all of a sudden is seen as this cost effective and strategic way to reach current and potential customers.

Now, we have more social media experts than cardiologists. All of these experts have their go-to operations, but a recent study I found on brainz caught my eye. Which social media strategy should you use for your big campaign?

Of course you know I'm kidding. But I thought this humorous look at social media sites was pretty funny. Hope you enjoy!

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