Alpha Software is alive and building powerful database products

In my 20 years working in or writing about the technology industry, it's

fair to say I've seen a lot of companies come and go. Osborne.

Ashton-Tate. WordPerfect. Javelin. MECA. Xanaro. Hyperion. Give me an

hour and I could probably come up with at least two dozen. It wouldn't

be that hard.

One of the companies I believed to have been long gone was Alpha

Software. A decade ago, they had a database called Alpha, or Alpha 3, or

Alpha something. In the lab, we thought highly of Alpha and used it to

keep track of all the products coming in for product reviews, and their

return (well, on those rare occasions when we actually did return

something) to the vendor.

Imagine my surprise to learn that not only is Alpha Software alive, it

seems to be flourishing, albeit in near anonymity.

It turns out that Alpha's current database platform is called Alpha Five

version Five and the company is about to launch Alpha Five version 6.

Yes, I know the name is pretty dumb, but it is what it is.

Learning of the company's continued existence, I took a trip to the

headquarters to see what's new. I was impressed with what I saw.

I was shown a near-complete version of the new Web-server Alpha

platform; a database development environment that includes its own Web

server, allowing anyone with an Internet connection and a browser to use

a database application. That, along with sophisticated record locking

and the elimination of the need to synchronize multiple unconnected

users, brings Alpha firmly into the twenty-first century.

The Alpha guys are positioning Alpha Five (version five or 6, take your

pick) as a powerful, but far easier-to-use development platform than

Microsoft Access. And I suppose that's probably true. Though I no longer

make my living as a programmer, I've built applications in Access.

Powerful, yes. Intuitive, hardly. I did find the beta of Alpha 6 to be

very intuitive.

And the Alpha folks pointed out one interesting item to me. When you

want to migrate your Access application to a more powerful database

platform, the built-in Upsizing Wizard supports migration to Microsoft

SQL Server, and only Microsoft SQL Server. Alpha's Upsizing Genie is

open and supports migration to just about any platform, including Oracle

and DB2.

Sure, I know FileMaker is out there, and the company within the past

couple of weeks launched version 7 of its FileMaker Pro platform. It,

too, is a powerful development environment, but I knew that FileMaker

was very much alive, thanks, no doubt, to some fairly deep pockets.

DataEase remains active, and there is even a company called dBASE Inc.

that, in 1999, acquired the rights to the legendary dBASE software. Who

knew?

It turns out that Alpha Software is holding its worldwide developer's

conference in mid-May. I just may stop in and get the real-world view of

the product and the company from the third-party developers in

attendance. dBASE is holding its developers conference in July.

What's nice about all of this is that we're not locked into a single

solution. Alternatives abound. Whether it's MySQL, Oracle, DB2, dBASE,

DataEase, or even AskSam, having choices is a good thing.

Joel Shore is Editor-In-Chief of Reference Guide, a Web-based publisher

of product reviews. He also advises and develops editorial content for

high-tech vendors. Visit Reference Guide at www.referenceguide.com.

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