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Evaluating Alpha Five - Need Info on its capabilities

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  • Evaluating Alpha Five - Need Info on its capabilities

    We are a non-profit organization looking for a platform to convert an existing Access database (with SQL Server back-end) to the web. However, this is not a typical web application. Below are some of the requirements we are wanting to know if Alpha Five can handle:
    • Our staff are often in areas of poor or no connectivity, so we want to build this as an "occasionally connected" application, that is, it needs to be usable offline by remote users and then sync with the server when re-connected, but when the user is online, the app needs to use live data across the web. This would be for use on notebook or netbook computers running Windows. Smaller mobile devices such as phones and tablets may be a future platform but that is not the current focus. I have seen posts on this forum about hybrid Alpha Five apps, but ours is a different type of hybrid app, more like the "hybrid", or client/server, MS Access 2010/SharePoint app described here: http://dmoffat.wordpress.com/2009/11...s-application/ However, we do not want to use Sharepoint.
    • Similarly, as described at the link above, it would be ideal for any updates to the application to be deployed/synced automatically when the user connects, or somehow streamline that process.
    • We also want the ability to build extensive business logic into the application, similar to the capability of VBA with Access. I understand that this can be done with Xbasic on the server side and javascript on the client side? Are there any limitations to this compared to the Access/VBA way of doing things?
    • Are there limitations to UI customization? Most of the example sites I've gleaned from other posts on this forum display editable data in grids or fairly simple single-record forms. Is there plenty of flexibility for positioning fields anywhere on a form, highlighting fields (background colors), hiding fields based on roles of the users, etc?
    • I see at this link http://wiki.alphasoftware.com/Feature+Pack+Overview that Excel or Ascii files can be imported into a grid or table. Is XML also supported, or will it be in version 11? What about MS Word form data or PDF form data?
    Can Alpha Five handle these requirements? I don't see this capability currently offered. If not, would it be practical to build this functionality as a feature add-on, either for an Alpha Five desktop app that syncs across the web to the server when connected, or as an Alpha Five web app that caches and uses data on the client computer when offline and re-syncs and connects to the server when online?

    Can Alpha Five do these things, or maybe in a different way than we have visualized, or are we barking up the wrong tree? Alpha Five seems like a great product, but we just want to make sure we understand the capabilities, strengths and weaknesses of Alpha Five before committing our resources.

    Thanks in advance for your help!

  • #2
    Re: Evaluating Alpha Five - Need Info on its capabilities

    Welcome to Alpha

    The feature packs you see can be made by a programmer but is probably less expensive to purchase than to build yourself. What you have asked are capabilities in v10.5 except for a couple and they should be in v11(smaller devices).

    This is not VBA and Access. You are actually much closer to VB. Xbasic is very strong and all of alpha now works very well with sql and it should be better in v11.

    You will have some work to do when using the web side when you have no connectivity. I am running that one through my mind and have ideas of how to do, but have no need of it for my own use.

    All weaknesses I have found were ME. Everything I have tried has been able to be achieved either alone or with help from this board.
    Dave Mason
    dave@aldadesktop.com
    Skype is dave.mason46

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    • #3
      Re: Evaluating Alpha Five - Need Info on its capabilities

      The Feature Packs are a good investment, but in some cases they limit what you might want to do. The best example is the Excel Export feature pack, it exports what is on the screen. So if your "First_Name" field is not on the screen, it does not get exported. Fortunately it is totally easy to create any type of export needed, xls or xml, etc. Alpha can export in XML and has a standard library for doing so. Same for parsing incoming XML. But truth is, I never use those high level features and just use xbasic to do the same.

      ĽAre there limitations to UI customization? Most of the example sites I've gleaned from other posts on this forum display editable data in grids or fairly simple single-record forms. Is there plenty of flexibility for positioning fields anywhere on a form, highlighting fields (background colors), hiding fields based on roles of the users, etc?
      No limits other than your own ability. You can create lavish websites with input from a professional designer and CSS skills. Out of the box, it can be a little bland if you just slap grids on a naked page. You have total control over who sees what fields based on membership in security groups. Same logic also allows you to control who can Insert, Modify, Delete or View records, hide/show menu options, pages, grids, or anything else.

      On the synching up of records; someone here must have tackled this already; I have not done this yet. You would need some 3rd party utility to synch the database. Alpha is not going to detect that your connection is lost, especially if this is an on and off again situation. (Actually, maybe Alpha can -- there is a whole library on Sockets that might be useful, but I have no idea.)

      It is easier for me to envision your remote computers have a local database that is ALWAYS used and then synched up to the main on some schedule. If you try to make it totally dynamic, responding to the whims of your Inernet connection, you might end up with a data-integrity problem.

      You do not need to create a traditional "hybrid" application, part Desktop and part Web. Just create a web application and the remote guys use it with their local database as a Intranet and the server does the same, but runs as an Internet application.
      Steve Wood
      Join the ALPHA DEVELOPERS NETWORK
      There is no Cloud. It's just someone else's computer.
      Web - Mobile - Hosting - Products - Frameworks - Developer Resources
      AlphaToGo | IADN (100% Alpha Anywhere Websites)

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      • #4
        Re: Evaluating Alpha Five - Need Info on its capabilities

        Russ,

        Alpha is an excellent platform for what you are trying to do.

        Conversion from Access to Alpha. I'm just finishing up a similar conversion project from Access to Alpha/MySQL. The hardest part of the conversion for the client was changing their thinking about the app from the desktop "everything on one form" approach to the web many "bite sized" pages. Once we were over that, the project went well.

        Poor connectivity. I'm currently working on a project for a Canadian customer whose projects take him into areas of no connectivity and very harsh conditions. Like him, you are probably looking at doing mostly data collection. Again, we are using Alpha/MySQL. So, he will run both on a Laptop (not sure a netbook will be powerfull enough) and use the built-in MySQL replication utilities to resynch when he gets back to the internet connection. I'm also investigating using "Dragon" so he can leave the laptop in the truck and dictate his findings back to the laptop using WiFi through his phone with a bluetooth earpiece inside the hood of his parka...it's hard to type in mittens! As Steve suggested, we would prefer to push the button to resynch rather than rely on auto synching since the internet can be fickle out in the wilds.

        Extensive business logic. I also have another customer who has a chain of cell phone stores and runs the entire business over the internet using (you guessed it) Alpha/MySQL. Talk about business logic...have you ever tried to figure out cell phone calling plans? Last time Bell made a major change to their plans, we had modified the logic in Alpha and were back up and running in a couple hours.

        UI customization. Alpha grids have "freeform" editing that will allow you to place fields where you want, but also a lot of flexibility to use the built-in tools for form customization. However, don't sell the standard layouts short. in most cases, the users find them very useable. Also, this goes back to my first point about the difference in desktop and web apps. That's the difference between the web and the desktop, not the difference between Alpha and Access.

        Finally, it won't be a 5 minute app. You can do everything you want, but it will take time and effort. You would be well served to use Alpha's Professional Services or contact a developer through IADN and get either programming or mentoring help. Lastly, there is a world of knowledge here on the board and develpers who will go out of their way to help you with the tricky bits.

        Good luck!
        Pat Bremkamp
        MindKicks Consulting

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Evaluating Alpha Five - Need Info on its capabilities

          With a simple script Alpha allows you to upload static data to a web site using dbf. This means your remote users can use a simple "desktop" dbf on their laptop to save & store their data. Then, when they are in range and connected, they can upload their data to the site to a dbf table. Since Alpha's web model allows you to mix & match different backends, you could have a dbf grid and a SQL grid both in the same application and synch data from dbf to SQL as needed.
          Peter
          AlphaBase Solutions, LLC

          Peter@AlphaBaseSolutions.com
          https://www.alphabasesolutions.com


          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Evaluating Alpha Five - Need Info on its capabilities

            Originally posted by Pat Bremkamp View Post
            ...Poor connectivity. I'm currently working on a project for a Canadian customer whose projects take him into areas of no connectivity and very harsh conditions. Like him, you are probably looking at doing mostly data collection. ...
            Thanks, Pat, and everyone else for your helpful comments. Just a clarification...this application will not just be for data collection. It will need to sync both ways so that the users see the latest data when they have connectivity. The back-end at the home office is MSSQL Server and it's a requirement to stay that way since other systems and websites depend on it.

            I was looking at SQL Server Compact yesterday here. It advertises:

            "Microsoft SQL Server Compact is a free SQL Server embedded database ideal for building standalone and occasionally connected applications for mobile devices, desktops, and Web clients." And...

            "Keep mobile and occasionally connected systems synchronized with full support for SQL Server merge replication."

            If Alpha Five (either desktop or web) can connect to a SQL Server Compact database on the client system, that might be an option for syncing back to the "mother ship" SQL server at the home office. I would still need to research the details of how that sync works to know if this is a good option. However the sync is done would need to be automated or very simple for the user. Do any of you (or others "listening") have any experience with Alpha Five and MSSQL Server Compact?

            Thanks again!

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Evaluating Alpha Five - Need Info on its capabilities

              Russ,

              I'm a newbie and I'm an idiot. By "idiot" I mean I'm not a professional developer and therefore sometimes pretty clueless about programming things. I'm an architect who was tired of having to call somebody, wait for them to do it, and then write a check every time I needed some new search field on my web site.

              I did buy the AlphaToGo template and I've paid for some training/coaching (which in a few challenging corners has meant somebody named Peter just sent me the code I needed). But I've found my way and am now running all my office admin on Alpha Five, using the same database as runs my web site - a huge savings in double entry of home plan info. I learned to make forms, grids, program search to work the way I wanted and look the way I wanted.

              I have found no UI limitations at all. http://www.afhp.co/ - there've been a couple of things that weren't as obvious as point and click to make them look or behave the way I wanted, but nothing somebody named Peter or Steve couldn't show me how to do - and many others on this forum who've given me pointers.

              My admin is completely in the office. My web site is, obviously, on the web. It was not hard to learn to sync them up (and I'd never even dared touch my hosting server before!). I don't use sharepoint either - didn't want to pay for a static IP for my office, and we're a one room company - didn't need more complexity. I know there are folks here who know how to have an Alpha Five app work on a remote laptop and do what it should off the internet, and then sync up automatically when you connect again. I look at my app and think "holy crap girl, look at what you put together!" If could do what I've done so far, you can do this. And yes, Alpha Five will do it. I took a lot of askance looks from my web dude and others when I selected this, as it's not so well known. But they're all amazed now and looking into it themselves.

              My advice - yes go with Alpha Five. Do put in your budget some money for professional help - whether you have somebody build your application for you and then teach you how to make some changes if you want, or you have the time to devote to doing it yourself, with a coach. Once you see how one type of thing is done once, you'll be able to apply it to other instances. That bit of help though is priceless. Read the posts here - read lots of them. You'll quickly see who's respected by their peers, and what their communication style is, to see who might be right for you.
              Wendy Welton
              Architect
              past & future Alphaholic - deliberately falling off the wagon!

              http://www.artformhomeplans.com/

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Evaluating Alpha Five - Need Info on its capabilities

                Originally posted by Steve Wood View Post

                No limits other than your own ability. You can create lavish websites with input from a professional designer and CSS skills. Out of the box, it can be a little bland if you just slap grids on a naked page.
                There's an intermediate place betweeen "a little bland" and "lavish". I barely knew what CSS means and I was able to learn enough to make my web site look the way I wanted - and my in-house deskstop side as well. I didn't need rounded corners on everything, flash fade-ins etc. I just needed it to look designed, to look like an architect's web site, not like a database program.
                Wendy Welton
                Architect
                past & future Alphaholic - deliberately falling off the wagon!

                http://www.artformhomeplans.com/

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Evaluating Alpha Five - Need Info on its capabilities

                  Based on the lack of response to my second post above where I asked a question about AlphaFive's ability to connect to a Microsoft SQL Server Compact Edition 3.5 (SSCE) database (.sdf file), I assume that such a connection is not possible. That's too bad since it appears that SSCE meets our requirements for the database side of things for synchronizing an occasionally connected application on client systems with a MSSQL Server database at our home office (see here). From Pat's response, it sounds like MySQL provides a similar capability to replicate, but for good or bad, we are locked into MSSQL Server.

                  As you know, AlphaFive supports using ODBC to connect to databases, but unfortunately, there is no ODBC driver for SSCE. Instead, OLEDB and ADO can be used to work with SSCE sdf files. I experimented with that using MS Access 2007 and was able to manipulate data in the northwind.sdf SSCE database after connecting with the following connection string:

                  Provider=Microsoft.SQLSERVER.CE.OLEDB.3.5;Data Source=C:\Database\Northwind.sdf;

                  I tried the same thing with the AlphaFive 10.5 trial version, since ADO can be used with Xbasic (see here) but I could not find a way to make AlphaFive connect to the northwind.sdf database, and I could not find a way to enter a custom connection string like above.

                  If anyone knows how to do this, please let me know.

                  If this isn't possible with AlphaFive v10.5, will there be support for OLEDB in AlphaFive v11 or some other way to connect AlphaFive with SSCE databases?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Evaluating Alpha Five - Need Info on its capabilities

                    I am 99% positive you can connect to mssql, mysql and many more including the compact 3.5. You do just need to find the appropriate string and the place to put it within Alpha.

                    You will not connect to the db by way of ODBC, OLEDB or ADO. You will connect to the server which will give you the access to the database. This won't work-> "Provider=Microsoft.SQLSERVER.CE.OLEDB.3.5;Data Source=C:\Database\Northwind.sdf;"

                    You can look at examples of connections for mysql and mssql many places here or in the help files. May I suggest you pose the question: " how do I connect my alpha to ?????" in the appropriate part of the forum? It should get you some great help.

                    I don't use sql at present, but have tested with it and found NO shortcomings of what you can do. I do have mysql and mssql 3.5 loaded and have connected to both in the past to test them. No, I don't remember the strings. Others here will be more knowledgeable.
                    Dave Mason
                    dave@aldadesktop.com
                    Skype is dave.mason46

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Evaluating Alpha Five - Need Info on its capabilities

                      Dave,
                      Thanks for the info and suggestion. I will look for the appropriate place to re-post my question about connecting AlphaFive to SQL Server Compact.
                      Russ

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