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, July 30, 2010

Cure Microsoft Access headaches: Take one Alpha Five and call me in the morning

A few weeks ago we issued a press release that asked the question, "What would the Web look like if everyone could build their own Web 2.0 data-driven apps?" We said the day was not here yet where anyone could do this, but we also asserted that Alpha Five Version 10.5 has gotten us much closer. Now I want to introduce you to someone who reached out to us after we sent the release out. He is living proof that what we said is valid.

Meet Dr. Chris O'Brien, a neuropsychiatric pharmacist at the Regional Center in California. He's not a full-time professional developer. He's a doctor who has been successfully using Microsoft Access for the last 11 years for medical reporting.

He saw a need to merge medical records and case management in a Web application to streamline patient care at the Regional Center. But like a lot of MS Access developers, he was frustrated that Access limited his abilities to take his database to the Web, so he started searching for alternatives. After looking at a few other database development platforms, Dr. O'Brien decided to try migrating from Microsoft Access to Alpha Five.

He succeeded. He was able to leverage his 11 years of Microsoft Access skills and build NexusShare in six months in Alpha Five. NexusShare is an electronic record system and e-learning application for people that serve individuals with developmental disabilities. He sent me an e-mail demoing his application (by the way, I'm going to ask him for permission to share a video on the blog so you can see what he was able to build), and I wanted to know how a doctor had the time and skills to build such a sophisticated Web app.

I asked Melissa, one of our Alpha Software bloggers, to hop on the phone with him to capture his story in a podcast. Dr. O'Brien told her what drew him to building apps, how easy he found it to switch from Access to Alpha Five, the cost savings it provided him and the state of California, and more. After listening to their podcast I can now say that Alpha Five is doctor recommended. ;-)

Pop on your headphones and listen to Dr. O'Brien tell you how he took an idea for a Web app to fruition with Alpha Five. If you're an Access developer looking to move your app to the cloud, Dr. O'Brien gives you some valuable advice in this podcast about what it's like making the jump to Alpha Five.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How to register Web users in Alpha Five Version 10

If you're hitting some roadblocks trying to create a secure website with Alpha Five that includes online user registration, read our new step-by-step tutorial, "Registering Web Users in Alpha Five Version 10." Our Vice President of Education and Technology, Dr. Martin Heller, walks you through building a secure, opt-in website where users can register themselves with e-mail confirmation, and administrators can edit user information and permissions online.

If you're not at the point where you need to know how to register Web users, save the tutorial or bookmark this post. It will come in handy down the road when you do have to tackle these steps.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New white paper explores ROI of Microsoft Access 2010 for Web applications

I recently told you about a new white paper that is available for download called, "Web-enabling Microsoft Access: A cost/benefit analysis for developers considering Access 2010." It looks at the two options developers have to port an existing Microsoft Access application to the Web.

We sent out a press release on the wire today to announce it. But in case you're keeping tabs on our press releases, I'm posting it here as well. Give it a read or download the white paper if you haven't flipped its pages yet.

White Paper Will Help Database Developers Decide Whether Migrating to Access 2010 is the Right Choice for Their Organization

BURLINGTON, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Today Alpha Software released a new white paper titled, “Web-enabling Microsoft Access: A cost/benefit analysis for developers considering Access 2010.” Microsoft Access developers are at a turning point. The new version, MS Access 2010, finally lets them build Web applications. But at what cost? This white paper explores that question in clear, understandable terms for database developers and business executives. It is now available to download at the following URL For more details, visit the Alpha Software website or the blog.


Since 1982, Alpha Software has been providing developers with award-winning tools that make it easy to build business applications. Today over 1 million developers and tens of millions of users rely on Alpha Software’s Alpha Five. The company is privately held, and based in Burlington, Mass. Alpha Software can be found on the Web at The company’s blog is located at

Review copies, reviewer’s guide, and training available to press and bloggers.


Contact: Alicia Buonanno,, 610-228-2096

Press kit:

Web site:


for Alpha Software
Alicia Buonanno, 610-228-2096

Monday, July 26, 2010

Buying database software: PC Magazine tells you what to look for

Whether you're a novice or an expert developer, if you're in a stalemate over what database software to use, flip over to PC Magazine's "How to Buy Database Software."

Reporter Samara Lynn breaks down the issues when shopping for a database development platform in terms of design, ease of use, Web capabilities, operating system compatibility, and database usage. It's a great way to figure out which platform is best suited to your needs or your company's.

Samara covers all the top database platforms, including Bento 3, Alpha Five Version 10, FileMaker Pro 11, Intuit QuickBase, and Microsoft Access 2010. One thing to note: If one of your key requirements is building apps for the cloud, pay particular attention to Samara's comments in the seventh paragraph. It starts with "Alpha Five v10 ..." I'll leave it at that. ;-)

My thanks to Samara for including Alpha Five in her roundup of options that developers have, and for pointing out that it's about the developer's requirements, not about the tool. All of these products are excellent and I would never impugn the quality of my competitors because they are all world class. But what is really different are the types of applications these various systems are capable of producing. It's about what YOU want to accomplish and whether or not the tool lets YOU do that.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How Microsoft is abandoning its Access developers: The podcast transcript

If you didn't catch our podcast last week with Wayne Hopkins on "How Microsoft is abandoning its Access developers," I encourage you to flip back and take a listen. Due to Microsoft Access 2010's limited Web capabilities, Wayne decided to switch to Alpha Five. He tells you all the reasons why he made the decision and more. But if you prefer to read the conversation, here is the transcript.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Alpha Five Version 10.5 feature peek #7: Multi-valued fields in the Search part

If you have a search field that's configured to let multiple values be selected and displayed in the check box or drop down controls, then this feature peek is right up your alley. This video shows a significant enhancement that's been made in the Search part to allow your search to behave differently.

When you configure your search style there is a new portion for multi-valued fields where you can choose to "combine selections with AND." Before this addition, you could only select "combine selections with OR" for multiple selections. Watch the video to see how different your search results will appear with it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

PC Magazine's Access 2010 review points out Alpha Five's advantages

For the better part of a year, we've been blogging about the reasons why Access developers are unhappy and might want to consider migrating away from Microsoft Access 2010. It looks like we're not the only ones seeing that Access 2010 is not the ideal platform for moving databases to the Web.

PC Magazine just reviewed Access 2010, and pointed out that "Alpha Five's solution has all the tools you need already within it to get a database pushed out to the web."

Clearly we're not a tree falling in the forest when we're making noise about the trouble with Access 2010. Users have spoken and are voting with their feet and their dollars. Now one of the most respected product reviewers is also pointing out the differences among various Web database development platforms.

We'd like to thank PC Magazine for maintaining a broad view, and ensuring that their readers are aware of the bigger picture -- not just a single product.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Redmond Developer News says Alpha is 'Doing The News Right'

It's not every day that a press release makes more noise than the product it was announcing. But I was pleasantly surprised to see Redmond Developer News' David Ramel write an article about an Alpha Software press release.

David wrote the article, "Doing The News Right, And A Cool Dev Tool" to express his frustration with, well, let's say, formulaic, boring, and corporate-style press releases. In it, he uses the Alpha Five Version 10.5 press release as an example "from a company that actually knows how to do it right."

For anyone who has to market technology products -- or market anything for that matter -- the lesson here is that very few companies are important enough to put out a formulaic press release that is meaningful to the press. Now if you're the White House, you're important enough to distribute a formulaic press release.

But if you're a small development tool vendor in Burlington, Mass., that approach won't tell your story. What we tried to accomplish with the Alpha Five Version 10.5 launch release was to help the media understand the connection between Alpha Five's features and the capabilities they bring to users.

We could have done that in a formulaic style ("Alpha Software Announces Alpha Five Version 10.5"), or we could have tried to tell the story the same way we would explain it to our significant other. We chose the latter. Clearly that was appreciated, and for that we thank David.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How Microsoft is abandoning its Access developers

Last week, Wayne Hopkins left a post on the Alpha Software message board detailing the limitations he discovered when he downloaded Microsoft Access 2010. An experienced MS Access developer, Wayne was disappointed with the Web capabilities MSFT Access 2010 was offering.

As the Chief Financial Officer of Q Corporation in California, Wayne vented his frustration over Microsoft's clear abandonment of the small business owner and developer. This isn't the first time I've heard this complaint from an Access developer, so I shot off an e-mail asking Wayne if he would be so gracious as to share his broader views with us on the blog.

I tasked Melissa, an Alpha Software blogger, to get on the phone with Wayne and produce a podcast about his history with Microsoft Access, the specific items that limit developers from taking an Access app to the Web, and how Access really stacks up against Alpha Five.

If you're an Access developer struggling with whether you stay with Access or move to a different platform, there's probably a lot of value in this podcast. Click play and start listening.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Heads up! Clifton's in the car

It's starting to feel like the dog days of summer up here in Massachusetts, so what better time than now to share some dog stories?

Most people dread their traffic-infested commute to work. I don't. I've got Clifton, my dog and Alpha mascot, in the passenger seat most days giving me endless amounts of amusement. And if it's a beautiful morning, the windows are down and Clifton's ears are flapping in the wind.

But being the nosy dog he is, he can't see everything that's going on if he's only looking out the passenger-side window. So he does the next best thing. He bumps his head on the sunroof until I open it.

When I slide it back, Clifton pops his head right through it with a big, open grin. Now he has a 360 degree view of everything. All he needs next is pair of goggles and a cape to be identical to Snoopy's Red Barron impression in the Peanuts comic strip.

It's a hilarious sight to see, and it gives other drivers a good chuckle when they look up and find a fuzzy brown head sticking out of the roof of my car. Are your commutes to work as much fun as mine? Tell me about them or share a dog story of your own in a comment.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Alpha Five Version 10.5 feature peek #6: Power searches

In the Search part of the Grid, you can now use the advanced query syntax to perform power searches. What makes the searches so powerful? Well, for starters, you can search for ranges of records, different values in a field, and you're able to set the special operator to number four -- the wildcard. There's a lot more too, so click play and let Selwyn tell you all about them.

Part one

Part two

Friday, July 09, 2010

Google Apps help: How to preview a mail attachment

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Every now and then we have to take a breather and share a little bit of Alpha culture and our learnings. I've talked about our passion for dogs, the World Cup, and so on. So staying along those lines, here's a tech tip that I thought was too good not to share.

We've been writing on the blog about how the future is in the cloud, and we're taking that to heart. We're moving to the cloud internally. We got rid of Microsoft Exchange and went to Google Apps. And just like any move, you're bound to run into some bumps in the road. Well, I hit my first one the other day.

I have a regular Gmail account along with an Alpha Software Google Apps account. Previewing documents from the Web interface to Google Apps mail requires Gmail to create a tempor
ary online document. If you have two accounts, it can get confused and tell you there was a problem retrieving the document for viewing.

When I whined about this to Dr. Martin Heller, he told me why that was happening. Gmail doesn't know which of the accounts to open for Docs. It's simple to fix. Here's how to do it.

Before trying to preview an attachment, click on the Documents link at the top of the Google Apps page.

Then select one of your Docs accounts, preferably the account.
Go back to your mail and the attached document will preview without a problem. Try it yourself if you're a Google Apps user. Thanks for the help Martin!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Alpha Five Version 10.5 feature peek #5: Using GUIDs as the table's primary key

Life is good when you know how to deliver a GUID value (pronounced GOOD). A GUID is a globally unique identifier. It can be used as a primary key in a table when you're building a Web application. This video will show you how to automatically generate a GUID value when a new record is entered in the table.

GUIDs make it easy to identify a record, because every GUID value is guaranteed to be unique. A quick note about the video before you hit play. Selwyn demonstrates this new technique on a SQL table, but the same steps apply if you're using a native Alpha Five .dbf table.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

How to filter the Grid by user login in Alpha Five

I thought I'd start your return to the grind after a long holiday weekend with a feature tip. I received a question from a customer and it occurred to me that this problem might not be uncommon. He wanted to know how to filter the Grid by user login.

Alpha developer Jerry Brightbill hopped on the case right away, giving him an answer in under 24 hours. Nice work Jerry! I'll let him take it from here. If you still have a question after reading this, leave a comment and I'll get it answered.

There are a couple requirements to add such filtering.

1. The grids you want to filter must have data that can be filtered by some unique user identifier field. This seems obvious, but some people are trying to filter by values that don't normally exist in saved data shown on a grid. For example, you may have a list of invoices and each invoice has a customer_id of the person who made the purchase. If you have the customer_id of the current logged in user, you can filter on customer_id.

In almost all cases, what you usually don't have saved in any table is the security userid of the logged in user. Even if a table such as invoices did save a security userid, that is a poor value to use as it is usually a user editable value and can change. Identifiers must be unique and persistent.

2. The next issue is how to obtain the customer_id for the current user. This is where most users seem to have the biggest problem. The security system includes an optional special field called the 'ulink' field (for user link). This field can contain any character value up to 40 characters and is typically used to save some record identifier value from an external table. When the field is active, another option allows setting a session variable that contains the 'ulink' value for the current logged in user. Unlike most session variables, this is persistent in the sense that it always exists if security is active.

Most systems will have a 'customers' or similar table to track people (or companies). Each user record in the security system can have the 'ulink' field filled with a value of a matching record in that 'customers' (or company) table. For example, the customer table in a system may have a record for 'John Doe' who has a customer_id of '00000078'. If they are also in the security system, we can place a value of '00000078' in the ulink field for that users security record. When the user logs in, the system can then fill a session variable with that customer_id value, which then can be used to filter customer records.

Tuesday's Tech Toon

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Alpha Five Version 10.5 invades the British Houses of Parliament

Selwyn on point at the British Houses of Parliament
It might be summertime, but we're not about to sit back and unwind (or just not yet anyway). Selwyn flew over to Westminster, London a couple weeks ago to co-host a demonstration of Alpha Five Version 10.5 with Martin McSweeney at the British Houses of Parliament.

Martin was our "in" to secure this location. He's the Head of Development at and is building a parliamentary case management system in Alpha Five Version 10.5.

Because of the location, we were limited to how many people we could invite. Although the crowd was small, the conversations that emerged were nonetheless compelling and forward thinking.

Attendees were blown away with Version 10.5's new capabilities, extended functionalities, and feature packs. Selwyn also laid out what was ahead for Alpha Five, but I'll dive deeper into that in a later post (all good things, I promise).

I think what Colin Hamilton, one of the attendees, said about the event sums it up best.
Knowing what Alpha5 is capable of was great to hear, plus what features are coming in later versions -- the roadmap so to speak. One thing I liked is the edition of Feature Packs in v10.5, but as well as all the good time saving features strong developers will have increasing access "under the bonnet." One thing I will say is the Alpha5 team are forward looking. The seminar was a great insight.
A thank you is in order to Selwyn and Martin for making the event a smashing success! And I also want to say thank you to the attendees for making the trip to Westminster. It was a job well done on everyone's part.

Gathering around the table for an Alpha Five demo

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