View Full Version : Is Alpha 5 right for me?


07-06-2011, 07:56 PM
Alright, so let me explain how I got here.

We're a small company in a small office with a small budget. Did I mention we're small? Anyway, we have been wanting to transition our company databases (largest has 30,000 records, smallest around 1,000 records) to a web browser-based solution for some time, but have been unable to because we're small and don't have resident programmers to build our custom web interface for our database. We're used to using Filemaker Pro and we'd like to maintain the same ease of use for the end-users. We like web-based for the common reasons, namely, platform independent, access from anywhere, and no software licensing fees (sorta).

Remember that I said our budget was small? That means we can't afford to pay monthly hosting charges to host our databases somewhere. We don't even upgrade our Desktop software because if it ain't broke... So, we are looking for a DIY solution that has a quick learning curve and relatively low level of tech expertise required and little to no maintenance costs other than man-hours to perform occasional updates or upgrades. Something like Wordpress but for custom databases implementation.

I've looked around the web for solutions and mostly what I have found are either cost-prohibitive hosting solutions, cheap hosting solutions that are going out of business, free hosting solutions that are too limited in capability, broken or abandoned open source projects that don't seem very promising, suggestions to alter a stock CMS (like Drupal, which feels a little like trying to make a screwdriver do a hammer's job, or better converting a screwdriver INTO a hammer to get the job done), and then there's Alpha 5.

Alpha 5 is an intriguing idea, and it sounds promising in terms of what we're trying to do. But I do have some concerns.

1. I'm afraid that we're using a swiss army knife to spread butter on bread. What we're trying to achieve is very low tech. No iPhone or Android implementation, no shopping cart, no chat or banner ads. Just data basics, like you would get when you open up Filemaker Pro...search, display, print, export records, etc. Isn't there something even simpler than Alpha 5 for what I'm going for?

2. Standards and options. Now I may be displaying my ignorance here, but the sales rep I spoke with said that these apps only run on IIS servers and that they use XBasic predominently. Is this a choice, preference, or what? All of a sudden I feel restricted. I'd like the option to export my apps in PHP and run on a Linux box w/ Apache using MySQL. It's the de facto web standard. I presume it would be a lot easier to find support with PHP than XBasic and easier to find cheap hosting on Linux boxes than Windows boxes. In any case, I like options and I dislike proprietary oriented solutions less and less each minute.

3. Costs. Besides the upfront cost of the license, I'm guessing we'll need to pay for "mentoring" which could quickly add up. In fact, in the end, it might be cheaper to contract a PHP programmer to write a custom front end to a MySQL database. Even though the learning curve is relatively small from general consensus, there seems to be a definite learning curve for novices.

So, in conclusion, I'd like to drink this cool-aid, but I'm just not on board yet. I'm on the fence. I'm feeling like we're in an age where there should be a cheap solution for our simple needs. Ideas?

Steve Wood
07-07-2011, 09:13 AM
You can do everything on the cheap if you:

- use this message board as your mentor
- host the application yourself, in your office on a spare Windows machine.
- don't hire anyone to help you
- call Alpha directly and see if you can get a deal on the software cost - you need Developer and Web Application Server

Using that model, should cost you $1000 to get started and zero monthly cost, except your valuable time.

Having said that, Alpha does not match your likes. It is proprietary, not platform independent, not PHP/Linux.

Good mentoring or programming will cost at least $100/hour and there are a lot of "mentors/developers" that don't know their stuff so you have to evaluate and compare.

Alpha Five does NOT run on IIS currently. It has its own web server, IIS is not involved.
From a software developer's perspective, there is no such thing as a simple application. All applications become complex as soon as Developer and Client start their conversation. Approaching as if the application is or will be simple normally ends up in disaster.

07-07-2011, 11:27 AM
In addition to the wizened advice Steve gave you, there is a steep learning curve. I don't think there is anyway around that. From what I've seen, FM-Pro is very slick, while Alpha is very powerful. Different paradigms, different approach.

07-07-2011, 12:35 PM
To be clear, I don't mind a proprietary tool, so long as I'm not forced to stick with that tool going forward. Usually this revolves around file formats. Like Photoshop, it would be much better to have a working document format that could be used with a different image editing tool. I like standards. Also, I don't expect everything to be free. But, I'm just surprised there isn't an open-source database app for web, comparable to something like Drupal or Wordpress. Maybe I'll end up customizing a Drupal install to handle some special data.

But what I'm hearing that there is no easy or cheap solution to getting your data online in a browsable, searchable, editable situation comparable to a desktop database app, including Alpha 5.

That really sucks. And probably means we'll be tied to desktop apps for some time to come.

Thanks for the input...

Steve Wood
07-07-2011, 03:09 PM
Deck is stacked against you from the start with a short term forum username like "onthefence".:grin:

07-07-2011, 03:24 PM

So you're not allowed to dip your toes in the water before jumping in? If the waters aren't friendly, that informs me of which way to lean...

Steve Wood
07-07-2011, 03:30 PM

So you're not allowed to dip your toes in the water before jumping in? If the waters aren't friendly, that informs me of which way to lean...Man, that is such a ridiculous comment. I was being funny, hence the little smiley face. Even if I was being a jerk, which I was not, I don't represent everyone here. This is probably THE most friendly place to get good advice on the web. I will be happy to provide as much help as possible, just like dozens of others on this board.

07-07-2011, 03:34 PM

So you're not allowed to dip your toes in the water before jumping in? If the waters aren't friendly, that informs me of which way to lean...

Yeah, you are. If you poke around a little you will find that this is one of the most supportive user forums out there. Also, Steve Wood is one of the best developers in Alpha-land and has given his time here and elsewhere to hundreds of users. Why don't you give the free 30-day Alpha trial a shot? And try not to be so thin-skinned. Almost everyone on this board is helpful.

07-07-2011, 03:49 PM
Being a stranger to these parts, I guess I haven't learned the sense of humor yet.

I'm still trying to figure out if it's worth even downloading, installing, setting up, figuring it out...Everything takes valuable time as Steve pointed out.

And from the sounds of it, it's not the right fit for us. Unless, someone can convince me otherwise.

07-07-2011, 03:55 PM
Alpha is a great program - very powerful and very flexible. Because there is so much to it, there is much to learn. If you don't have the time or the ambition to learn (and that is very understandable when you are running a business) it may be too much to bite off in the short term. I wish I could tell you just download the program, point and click and you're on your way, but it's not quite that easy. Unfortunately, I don't know of an easy off the shelf program to do what you want. Sounds like you have done some research yourself and come to the same conclusion. But one thing I can promise you, if you decide to take the leap, you will get lots of support from this message board.

07-07-2011, 04:01 PM
Fair enough, thanks for the input.

Pat Bremkamp
07-07-2011, 06:07 PM

You haven't said what your current desktop program does. That might make a difference. If it is fully integrated or uses a propriatary database, then you would need to finish your app before you can really use it. If it uses a standard back end (you mentioned MySQL) then you may be able to start with one piece of your app in Alpha and move through the conversion one step at a time as you have time. I have a client who did that starting from a "Business Visions" program. Took him a year to completely replace BV with an Alpha Web App, but in the end he is getting great benefits from it. As he got one part done, he would drop that function in BV and use it in Alpha.

Like you, he didn't know Xbasic and didn't have a programming background when he started, so he did the easy bits first, then the harder stuff as his knowledge increased. He decided to get some mentoring as a way to speed up the process, but you can make that choice as you go along.

With Version 10.5 nearing replacement with V11, this is a great time to buy Alpha and get your feet wet at low cost. For a small company, 10.5 could last you a long time. There are still some users on this board that are still using V5.

07-07-2011, 06:25 PM
We use Filemaker Pro. It's a very graphically oriented database program for Desktops that's been around since the early 80s. It is proprietary, which is why I hate it. This is why I'm reluctant to jump to another proprietary software. The term app or software can mean a lot of things I realize. So, I'm trying to be clear in saying that I am shooting for a similar experience to what users get with Filemaker Pro. The backend can be more technically advanced, but the frontend has to be super simple to find data, create records, export or print records, etc. That is what we use Filemaker Pro for. We don't use a lot of the fancier functions that it has, like emailing or generating statistical reports. That's why we've seen no need to upgrade from our version from like 7 years ago. Very basic needs.

Of course Alpha doesn't need my advice, but I think they could attract a much larger user base if they could make the final apps run on standard, prevalent web servers, and use PHP. I know PHP isn't a favorite of many, but it's such a staple for the web.

07-07-2011, 06:34 PM
I'm actually kinda looking for something functionally like phpMyAdmin, but with a simpler user interface that looks less daunting and has permissions so that someone can't drop a table with an accidental click. End-user technical knowledge is low in our case.

07-08-2011, 09:55 AM
We use Filemaker Pro.

Of course Alpha doesn't need my advice, but I think they could attract a much larger user base if they could make the final apps run on standard, prevalent web servers, and use PHP. I know PHP isn't a favorite of many, but it's such a staple for the web.

Well Filemaker makes servers too. Advanced just cost about 3000 dollars per server. And they have also php plugin. Enjoy.

07-08-2011, 12:24 PM
Not sure how that helps anyone like me. That's precisely the reason of this post. Tired of having to pay a bunch of licensing fees, to just manage some simple databases.

07-08-2011, 09:14 PM
I'll jump in here and relay my experience using Alpha Five because I think it might have some relevance.

About 6 months ago, I was looking for a way to implement a web-based database application whose basic requirements would be input and tracking of equipment repairs,
parts inventory & tracking, and some reporting. I knew that I wanted something that could use SQL Server as a back-end since that's what we were already using at my business.
My background in SQL and programming was minimal, that is not my primary area of expertise for sure.

Somehow I came across Alpha Five while researching, as well as FilePro and downloaded both to try out. After less than a day, I had a proof of concept application set
up and working in Alpha Five. Not complete, but definitely something I knew I could expand into something very useful.
Suffice to say, after more than 3 hours of frustration with FilePro simply trying to build a connection string to my SQL database and getting nowhere, I gave up on it and
knew Alpha could get the job done for me .. I knew which direction I was going at that point (it is definitely worth taking the trial for a test drive)
Now, it's been about 6 months since I first trialed Alpha Five, and for the past month my application has been published and up and running on a little Dell Optiplex 960 running Windows XP.
This is not my final server as I need some redundancy of a proper RAID server. I have a proper server ordered. It has however, been working great and we have about 7 regular users and
perhaps another dozen occasional users. Most of this application I have managed to develop simply by watching some of the terrific videos that Alpha has on their website as well as those
included in the software purchase, then trying it out myself. For the stuff I kinda got stuck on, the fine folks here on the forum have been wonderful ... I can't speak highly enough of them.
I have even asked questions on the forum before and had users reply not just with a suggestion or answer but posted videos of how to do something .. remarkable!
There are still a few things I haven't quite achieved to my satisfaction, but I know in time I'll get there and in the meantime, I have a perfectly functional web based database application.

So there you have it, I really had no experience with HTML, CSS, XBasic, Ajax, or javascript before I started this project a few months ago, but I now have a great little web database and
"little" bit more knowledge about the aforementioned coding. Yes, you will have to delve into some of these things, but overall Alpha does a remarkable job of handling it for you. There have
been some areas of frustration along the way, but in the end, these were all icing on the cake things that didn't impede the basic goals of my project.

That's my experience with Alpha and I definitely don't regret taking this path.


07-25-2011, 09:16 AM
try Kexi under linux