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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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Throw Clifton a bone on LinkedIn

When Clifton Rabins became Director of Sniff Testing at Alpha Software, one of his new responsibilities was to learn how to network with people.

He knows how to network with dogs. But I won't mention how they do that. And in the interest of keeping it clean, I'll just say that it won't work with people.

Even though he doesn't have any thumbs, Clifton managed to create his own LinkedIn profile. Now he's looking to get LinkedIn with you.

Go ahead and add Clifton Rabins to your network. Linking in with Clifton could have benefits for you later down the road. He's always foraging for great offers and occasionally digs one up that only he knows about. And my understanding is that he'll feature these offers only to his LinkedIn network.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

One less PEBKAC error to worry about

A developer's life is filled with PEBKAC errors. More importantly, anticipating them. For the one guy reading this who doesn't know what a PEBKAC error is, it stands for "problem exists between keyboard and chair."

When you're building an application, one of the things you're always doing is looking for ways users can screw up the input. So you provide error handling to anticipate this. One such issue is when a user makes a change without saving it when they're in an .A5W page.

Now there's a solution. You can write custom code to prevent the Tabbed UI pane from closing if the .A5W page is dirty. It will display an alert asking the user to either save the changes or abandon them. The code works by setting an arbitrarily named property of the Tabbed UI object called "gridIsDirty." You can see step by step how this is done in the videos below. I think it's safe to say that this will prevent a few PEBKAC errors.

Part one

Part two

Friday, February 18, 2011

Microsoft Access developers tell you why Access is 'not ideal for Web solutions'

We've been beating up Microsoft Access on this blog for a while because it has serious issues for developers wanting to deploy their applications to the cloud. I've given you my reasons and you've even heard from a few developers who abandoned MS Access over it.

I'm not going to beat Access up more today. Instead, FMS, Inc., a very well-known and respected MS Access development company, will take that role. Luke Chung, President of FMS, Inc., recently wrote the article "Database Evolution: Microsoft Access within an Organization's Database Strategy," and pointed out that Access is not an ideal platform for Web solutions.

First, Microsoft's own developers revolted on its own website. Now an Access development community says that it's not optimized for the Web and the "licensing rules and user counts around SharePoint also make it quite expensive to create solutions for the general public."

To say that Access isn't designed for the Web is like saying this is a good car, but it isn't designed for highway travel. It's absurd, but true. But don't let me sell you on the idea. Jump over to the article to give it a read yourself.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I'm giving you the OK to use Twitter at work

When Twitter first flew onto the scene I admit, I was in the nest of skeptics. I wasn't sure if it would be a valuable tool for Alpha Software or for our customers. But then Paul Gillin, author of "The New Influencers" and "Secrets of Social Media Marketing," stepped in and explained the endless possibilities that Twitter has for entrepreneurs.

I broke down and joined, and from the moment I sent my first tweet, I became an avid Twitter user. I've also see all the avenues it opened up to help our customers be successful in their businesses and organizations.

Earlier this week, we welcomed Paul back in our webinar, Secrets of Twitter Success for Business, hosted by Dave McCormick. Dave got such an overwhelming response that the webinar system hit full capacity (fail whale!) before it even started. Attendees were so engaged that no one flew the coup for the entire two hours.

If you missed it, here's your chance to watch it. Or if you were there, here's your chance to relive it again. You can now download Secrets of Twitter Success for Business. Paul reveals insight into how companies of all sizes have expanded their brands, built and grown customer relationships, and more through Twitter.

Download the webinar and then tell me in a comment on this post what you thought was the most helpful piece of advice. And if you have any questions about the webinar you can send us an e-mail.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Alpha Five to the rescue! Custom Help Window feature pack released

Whenever I'm in need of a little help, I always get the same Beatles chorus stuck in my head:

"Help, I need somebody,
Help, not just anybody,
Help, you know I need someone, help."

But if singing along to "Help!" won't help you out, our new Alpha Five Version 10.5 Custom Help Window feature pack might do the trick. It lets you define custom help systems for your Grid components, including the Search, Grid and Detail View parts, and for individual fields.

With it, you can create your own help text and have it display in multiple languages based on the end user's current active language. The help messages are read from either a .dbf or SQL table. Even after the app is published, you can edit the message. You can then define a button that will trigger a pop-up window in response to the end user clicking on a help icon or pressing the F1 key.

Better yet, when you define a help topic, you can use special commands, or directives, in the help text. This will dynamically generate parts of the help text to let different help text be displayed depending on who the user is. For example, an administrator or a manager.

There's a lot more to it than this. Watch the six videos below to get a demo of the feature pack, or flip over to our release notes. Then let me know if you get that Beatles song stuck in your head for the rest of the day. :)

Part one

Double dose of tips to keep your iPad secure

Last week I shared with you the security tips Alpha Software Security Evangelist Jeff Kalwerisky gave Maria Korolov for her article, "Four Keys to Locking Down Your iPad." Maria wrote two other articles about iPad security that appeared in Network World and ComputerWorld.

Both included more of Jeff's tips on keeping your iPad secure. Thanks again Maria for including Jeff in your articles. And if you own an iPad, Maria's articles are definitely worth a read. Flip over to both to give them a gander.

Network Worlds "Five iPad safety tips"

ComputerWorld's "iPads storm the enterprise"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How to keep your iPad secure

What does iPad security have to do with Alpha Software? One word: security. Alpha has a world-class security expert on staff who helps ensure that your applications are hardened so the solutions you build won't be compromised.

That expert is Jeff Kalwerisky. Maria Korolov at Internet Evolution asked Jeff for security tips for her article, "Four Keys to Locking Down Your iPad."

What's Jeff doing working on an iPad at Alpha Software? (hint, hint!) I won't spill the beans, yet. In the meantime, read Maria's article to get Jeff's tips on keeping your iPad secure. Thanks Maria for including Jeff in your piece!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Cloud, shmoud: Alpha Five still builds awesome desktop apps

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of cloud computing. Alpha Software has done a lot of work in this area over the past couple of years with our Codeless Ajax technology, and I can't wait to share what we're working on in the mobile space for future Alpha Five versions. But never let it be said that we left our desktop developers behind.

I introduced you to Don Lavigne in a case study we wrote on his desktop application HealthSoft Solutions last year. Don, a chiropractor with no background in programming, developed an application that gives chiropractors and physical therapists the ability to create a daily patient record in a matter of seconds and generate complete reports with the push of a button.

Since we published the case study, Don hasn't stopped discovering all the nooks and crannies of Alpha Five Version 10.5. He's been updating his app and put together a sleek new demo of what he's been able to build. Right now, HealthSoft Solutions is a desktop application, but Don will be deploying it to the cloud over the summer.

Give Don's demo a gander. It's an excellent example of Alpha Five's powerful and rich framework for building desktop or hybrid (desktop/Web) applications. And if you have any demos of your own Alpha Five apps, send them to me to feature on the blog.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

BtoB wags its tail at Alpha Software's canine-friendly company

When we announced that Clifton Rabins was joining Alpha Software as Director of Sniff Testing, we turned a lot of heads. Mostly because Clifton is my dog. But one of those heads was Karen Bannan at BtoB, a magazine for marketing strategists.

She was interested in why we took this approach for a press release, and interviewed me for her article, "Alpha Software goes to the dogs to promote its products."

Normally I don't spill trade secrets. OK, yes I do. I write about them all the time on this blog. But anyway, I told Karen that we used this press release as a vehicle to introduce other new hires we recently made at Alpha Software. But that doesn't mean Clifton isn't hard at work sniffing out bad code. ;)

Rather than bore you with the details, I'll let the story speak for itself. The bottom line is that marketing doesn't have to be boring. We love what we do and we hope that it shows in everything we do, including the press releases we write. Thanks again Karen!

Friday, February 04, 2011

How to refresh the parent Grid when an event occurs in the child Grid

Children. Ya gotta' love 'em. Sure, they can be a handful sometimes, but the joys and ease of use they bring you are rewarding. Ease of use? You're right, I'm not talking about a human being right now. I'm talking about child Grids.

When you make a change in the child Grid, you've always been able to update the parent Grid if you hit the refresh row button on the parent Grid. Now, you can force a child Grid to refresh a row in the parent. Who would have thunk that the children would be telling the parents what to do?

In the videos below, Selwyn demonstrates this by using a Grid based on the "Customer" table. It has a linked content section showing a Grid based on the "Invoice_Header" table. This relationship makes the "Customer" Grid the parent of the child Grid, the "Invoice_Header."

When a record in the child, or "Invoice_Header," Grid is saved, Selwyn shows you how to use the AfterUpdateRecord event handler to make a change to the parent, or "Customer," table. This event forces the "Customer" Grid to automatically refresh to show the change. Watch the videos and then give it whirl.

Part one

Part two

Part three

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

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