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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

InformationWeek says Alpha Five 'takes advantage of Microsoft's relative openness'

The other day I got a Google Alert that pointed me to the InformationWeek article, "Windows Ecosystem 2.0." In it, writer Eric Bruno said that in terms of cloud development, Alpha Five is "taking advantage of Microsoft's relative openness for integration."

The best part is that I don't think our PR team has ever pitched Eric on a story. So he was sharing this conclusion based on his own knowledge. That said, you can be sure Eric will be hearing from our PR department soon. :)

Meanwhile, I did what every person does when they get exciting news -- I shared the article around the Alpha office. Then Jim Dusoe, Alpha Software Lead Business Analyst, fired back with some interesting insights on the article. Although it was meant to be an internal discussion, Melissa, an Alpha Software blogger, thought there was a lot of great content in it that should be shared with our readers.

She asked Jim for his blessing to publish it on the blog, and he gave it to her. Thanks Jim! So give Jim's insights a read. And if you have any additional thoughts, please add them in a comment on this post.


This is a very interesting article and I think there are some important considerations. These are not necessarily new thoughts, but I though I'd put in writing some reasons I think Alpha is uniquely positioned to provide what developers are looking for in the context of this article.

First, some observations based on past experience:

I think there are 2 major groups when it comes to the decision making process for development tools and platforms

  • "I will use whatever tool solves the problem" - resolve the technical issues (rapid development, easier deployment, support, etc.) for developers' projects. Usually the independent contractor or small shop thinks this way.
  • "I will use the safest, most recognized tools available" - the "I won't get fired if I choose IBM" attitude. I may not be using the "best" technology, or even the most efficient. But it is a known quantity. Most often the corporate mindset where job protection and bureaucracy are factors.

The benefits of Open Source vs. Commercial software is a long running debate that is not going to be resolved in a single email. In fact, I don't think it will ever be settled. The fact is, both approaches have their place, and as a developer you have to choose what works for you. I think the most important thing to consider, as the article indicates, is there is a HUGE need for good tools in several areas - areas which Alpha Software is eminently suited for. Namely, web/cloud/SAAS applications and, with V11, mobile applications. Good tools that solve real, everyday problems will promote a community that will in turn create more demand for additional features, reveal new developer needs and generate more ideas for increased productivity. Personally, I don't really care what it costs. The question for me is always "Can I create products that will generate revenue with this tool?"

Alpha Software's decision to leverage Microsoft foundation technologies should appeal to BOTH groups mentioned above. The fact that Alpha has been in existence since 1982 is a strong statement about the company's ability to address developers' challenges. You can point to the past several years to see a landscape littered with companies that have failed to create products/platforms that have captured developers' imaginations. Microsoft has stumbled in abandoning VB users at least twice. The latest version of Access is not being received very well as a web development tool. And Silverlight's place in the development world is questionable. And you can point to a few languages/platforms that have certainly made their mark in a very positive way (PHP, RUBY, Visual Studio to name a few). Alpha has proven its ability to deliver on its promise of a powerful RAD development tool - now more people need to know about it!

So for group 1 above - Alpha just works. On Alpha's own staff, you have C#, VB, Ruby, Visual Studio, Ironspeed Designer, Codecharge, Classic ASP, Visual Foxpro, and who knows what other platforms that have been used for development. And everyone will attest to how much better Alpha's products are in comparison. We each have our own history, and we each have things we want to see in the product, but no one is arguing there is anything better on the market. That diversity of backgrounds speaks volumes regarding Alpha's success in creating a truly useful product.

In regards to group 2 - the story has to be told that Alpha is not a "different platform", but rather an extension of a developer or a shop's current development methodologies. I think the barrier to considering Alpha Software almost disappears when Alpha is offered as an extension to IIS - regardless of cost. Although personally I don't see much of an issue to deploying and running a separate Application Server, the perceived ability to leverage existing infrastructure is a big plus to the corporate IT department mindset.

We take it for granted because we work with the product every day, bit I think it is important to list the many disparate pieces of technology addressed by Alpha. And how much of the complexity is hidden for the beginning developer and yet available for more advanced users:

  • Alpha Platform
    • Grids
    • Tabbed UI
    • Reports
    • Menus
    • Security Framework
    • Event Model
    • Dialogs
    • more...
  • Xbasic (not much you can't accomplish with this scripting language - years of high level language enhancements)
  • HTML
  • Javascript
  • Database Connectivity (SQL Server, MySQL, Orable, DB2, etc.)
  • CSS
  • XML
  • Coming - mobile

It is really hard to find such a comprehensive set of tools that are at the same time so accessible for the first time user. Combine that with the ease with which third party tools can be integrated and it's pretty hard to beat.

And here's the kicker - because the end product that is produced is industry standard HTML, CSS and JavaScript code, there is no real conflict with any other platform you choose to use. Which is what the last part of this article starts to address. Alpha can fit very nicely in a developers toolbox, regardless of their current tool set.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading my ramblings - talk soon...

Jim Dusoe
Alpha Software
Lead Business Analyst


petewilliam said...

Very... Nicee... Blog.. I really appreciate it... Thanks..:-)

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