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, May 31, 2011

Alpha Five 101: Understanding Ajax callbacks

Have you ever done a fartlek session? Just the word sounds complicated, right? Well if you're a runner, you work fartlek sessions into your runs to increase your endurance.

But all it is simply running faster than your normal pace for a short amount of time. Then you slow down and repeat the process a few times.

It's that simple. Just run faster. Ajax callbacks also sound more complicated than they actually are. The action they execute is so simple that most developers think they're missing something.

But when its broken down, they really just perform three steps that make a huge impact on the performance of your application, whether it's on the desktop, Web, or mobile device. With the help of Selwyn, Martin Heller is putting to bed the questions surrounding how an Ajax callback works.

The new entry in Alphapedia, Alpha Five's wiki-based, context-sensitive help system, breaks down the chain of events in an Ajax callback. So if you've ever had any questions about how it works, jump over to the new entry now. Thanks Martin and Selwyn for putting this entry together!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Calling all UK developers! Welcome to your new Alpha Software home

Since we announced the opening of Alpha Software's U.K. office, Martin McSweeney has been laying the groundwork for the news he is about to share with you today. As the Head of Business Development in the U.K. for Alpha Software, Martin's been working hard to create a home filled with resources where U.K. Alpha Five developers can go to find solace.

But it's no fun if I just write about the news. Instead, I'm going to have Martin tell you himself. He connected with Melissa this morning on Skype to deliver the news personally. Hit play to find out what it is.

Not only do we have a new website, but this is the first time we've built our entire website in Alpha Five. This gives you a sense of what Alpha Five is capable of. However, it's still a work in progress. Some of the pages aren't skinned yet, but they'll soon reflect the design of the homepage.

And if you're in the U.K. area on July 6, make sure you register for Alpha Software's U.K. Developers Conference. You'll get to meet me, Martin McSweeney, Selwyn Rabins, Bob Moore, and the rest of the Alpha Software family at the Heathrow Hilton, London. Best of all, it's free.

Hope to see you then!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Alpha Five Version 11 Feature Peek #9: Make your apps move with video

Warning: This Alpha Five Version 11 feature peek is not for the faint of heart. In fact, if you've been spending days or weeks trying to add video to some other database using some other database development platform, well, you might just faint at how easy we've made it for developers to add video to database applications using Alpha Five Version 11.

Now you can add YouTubeHTML5, or Flash video to your desktop, Web, and mobile applications. And best of all, Alpha Five Version 11's video capabilities are supported across all browsers and all OSes, including Windows Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Opera, and any other W3C standards-compliant browser. And we've also made sure that it works in Apple's iOS and Google's Android.

The beauty is that the Alpha Five Version 11 video component intuitively adapts and supports all video codecs and containers supported within all of the major desktop and mobile browsers. Through point-and-click, developers can take advantage of the power of video as part of their database solution.

So if you're building a real estate app, you can now include video tours of houses. An insurance app can include videos of claims sites. Or maybe you're building a database of speakers available for events. Instead of just having a profile of each speaker, you can include videos of their past speeches. The possibilities are endless.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dan Bricklin on mobile application development: The transcript

The other week we debuted our extended interview with Dan Bricklin about his thoughts on the future of mobile application. If you'd rather read the interview than watch it, here's a copy of the transcript. Dan also talks about his new iPad app, Note Taker HD, developer burnout, his thoughts on Web-based development tools, and much more.

But if you want to hear what Dan thinks about the mobile development framework being released in Alpha Five Version 11, flip to page eight. Thanks again Dan for chatting with us!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

65,000 musicians score with Alpha Five

Greg Taylor, an Alpha Five developer, was recently featured in an InfoWorld article about nine cloud development gotchas and how to avoid them. After the article ran, we produced a podcast with Greg to get the full story on the Web app he built with Alpha Five Version 10.5.

See, Greg's not a full-time developer. He's a music teacher who is part of the Ohio Music Education Association (OMEA). It's the principal organization in Ohio promoting music education in elementary and secondary schools as well as colleges and universities.

Greg started developing because OMEA's process for registering students for Solo and Ensemble Adjudicated Events was outdated. Everything was entered or searched manually, or on a desktop app. This lead to information being out-of-date, duplication of registrants, and many other headaches experienced when putting together music events for thousands of students across the state of Ohio.

Greg took it upon himself to find a solution where music teachers, parents, and administrators could go to register their students anytime, anywhere. And on top of that, to get access to the most up-to-date database of performers instantly. He knew these requirements were only going to be fulfilled in a Web app.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How Canada's largest supplement maker is using Alpha Five to save big

If you prefer text to podcasts, here's the text version of our podcast with Bert TerHart.

We talked to Bert about what it was like to build his first Alpha Five Web app for Factors Group, Canada's largest supplement and nutriceutical manufacturer.

Today his app is saving the company tens of thousands of dollars. Read about how Bert did it with Alpha Five and all the other benefits Factors Group is reaping from it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Alpha Five Version 11 Feature Peek #8: Real-time automatic backup

Last week Google Blogger had a major outage. It's the first outage I can remember since being on the platform since 2007. During the time they went down, there was a lot of concern that they had lost posts. However, every time I write a post, I manually create a HTML copy before I save it in Blogger.

In fact, when I was writing a post last week I noticed that Blogger started to have trouble saving. So I grabbed a copy of the HTML and saved it in a text file. Later that day, I found out that Blogger had crashed and my post (of course it was a long one) had disappeared.

But I wasn't wiping any sweat from my forehead. I had the HTML saved. Fortunately, when Blogger finally came back my post was recovered, but Blogger recovered a slightly earlier version. So I literally pasted the most up-to-date version I saved in a new post.

It would be nice if Blogger automatically backed up multiple versions of my posts every time I saved. Google Docs does it. In fact, throughout the entire Google Docs ecosystem, a version of your Doc is created every time you save it. You can look at a document that goes back two years and see the earliest version.

This same type of technology is coming to Alpha Five Version 11. We call it automatic backup. But by rights, we should probably call it real-time, continuous automatic backup. Why? Because every time you save a version of the component you are coding, that version is backed up and stored in a folder in the Web project.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Alpha Five Version 11 Feature Peek #7: A minor tweak that will make a lot of developers very happy

How many times have you written Bill Gates about a new feature you want included in the next version of Microsoft Access? Maybe you wrote him once or twice, a hundred times, or not at all. But no matter what you did, I doubt he ever wrote you back saying, "We heard you, and we're going to include it in the next version of Access."

Selwyn and I talk to our developers everyday. As you might expect, we get a lot of requests for a lot of different features. Some of the features are really big ideas, while some are trivial, and then there's everything in between. And to decide what gets added and what doesn't in the next version of Alpha Five is always tough.

The big ideas always require a lot of time and resources. And before you do anything, you have to do a cost/benefit analysis to determine whether or not it's even worth committing those resources to bring that big idea to light.

The trivial ideas are many. It's easy to dismiss them because they're simple, little changes. But taken in total, they also require a cost/benefit analysis, and then time and resources to implement. Well, I'd like to tell you that we have some highly evolved best practice we use to do that analysis. But I'd be lying if I said we did. :)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ruminations of mobile application development and more in extended interview with Dan Bricklin

Our video interview with Dan Bricklin generated quite a bit of buzz. I've received a few e-mails from long-time developers whose work was affected by Dan's early applications. It led to a lot of reminiscing in the Alpha Software offices last week about the influence VisiCalc had on the personal computing industry.

Then it hit me. Dan's thoughts on application development and the future of mobile application development needed to be seen and heard outside of our blog. So we distributed a press release today highlighting the points Dan makes about the industry.

Dan even discusses what impact he thinks Alpha Five Version 11's mobile development framework will have on developers building for mobile. That starts around minute 25 if you want to fast forward to it. The press release is below if you want to give it a gander. And if you haven't watched the interview, pop back now and hit play.

Pioneering industry developer talks about a wide range of topics including his new iPad app, the coming wave of developer burnout, the state of mobile application development, and more

BURLINGTON, Mass. -- (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Dan Bricklin, the developer who legitimized the personal computer and spawned the industry that we know today, is featured in an extended video interview on the Alpha Software blog. As a developer who has remained relevant for three generations, Bricklin discusses:

Thursday, May 05, 2011

How PrintHTML lets you create multiple sub-reports with ease in Alpha Five

For developers looking to get their hands dirty in their reporting toolkit, I've got your dirt. I've recently been working with a function that helps you create more sophisticated report layouts in Alpha Five. It lies in a simple function that's been a part of Alpha Five's Xbasic language for some time, but is often overlooked: the PrintHTML function.

This is important because one of the requirements that needs to be addressed in application development is the ability to create multiple sub-reports with your reporting tool. Sub-reports provide us a way to print information from child tables (e.g. invoice detail, payments, notes, etc.) related to the parent table (e.g. invoice header) in multiple different formats.

This has been available in Alpha using "Sets" when based on DBF files. Unfortunately, DBFs are not the best option for professional applications for a number of reasons (a topic for discussion at some other time). But RDBMSs (MS SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, etc.) cannot currently be used in a sub-report in the current Alpha Five report writer.

However, once again Alpha provides a way to solve this problem.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Dan Bricklin on mobile application development

Few commercial software companies have been in the business as long as Alpha Software. This is a tough, competitive industry that changes overnight. Companies that are leaders at one point can be quickly overtaken by new trends. Very few companies survive in the software industry beyond one era.

Some of the notable ones are, of course, Microsoft, IBM, and Apple. Yes, I know Apple builds hardware, but they also build software. In fact, I would argue that it's their software that makes their hardware so appealing.

But I'll throw out some names that were huge when Alpha Software first started 26 years ago who are now nothing more than footnotes in the history of computing. Ashton-Tate, WordPerfect, XyWrite, Quarterdeck, PFS, Digital Research, and WordStar.

There's another name that is also a footnote, but it's a footnote that spawned the industry. That company was Software Arts, Inc., which created VisiCalc. It was the first commercial spreadsheet for the Apple II. VisiCalc legitimized the personal computer, and spawned the industry that we know today. It was the first killer app that businesses could use right away and get real benefits from.

Here we are 29 years later, and Alpha Software is still around. And it's for one reason. We've ensured that our Alpha Five platform has kept pace with the changes and developments in the industry. If you're a long-time user of Alpha, you know how we've taken our developers from DOS, to Windows, to the Web, to the cloud, and now to mobile.

How to display alternating rows of data in an Alpha Five Grid with Peter Conway

You might be familiar with the visually sophisticated Web apps Peter Conway builds. Peter is the founder of Alpha Five Master Class, which mentors and trains developers on how to build Web applications in Alpha Five. Peter and his associates also build custom applications for selected clients. I regularly post the videos he produces to show you the contemporary user experience he's able to create using what's technically a database development platform.

Peter shows the beautiful Web app experiences that Alpha Five is capable of producing in the hands of a talented end-user designer. But Peter's not just about beautiful Web experiences. He's also a true Alpha Five master. And that's one of the reasons he's the founder of the Alpha Five Master Class. :)

In this video, he'll show you how to display alternating rows of data in an Alpha Five Grid without having to write custom code. For example, image/text, then text/image, and so on. Now why would you want to do that? Well I know for some of you I don't have to say anymore. The light bulb's already gone off. For others, watch the video and the light bulb will go off. It's a very powerful capability that Peter is about to show you how to take advantage of.

Now you know our Codeless Ajax technology is all about being able to address common tasks without having to write code. But it also gives you the flexibility to tweak or customer develop your own code. I especially like this video is that it shows how our Codeless Ajax technology can solve more than just basic database visualization requirements.

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