April 01, 2004, 12:00 AM — 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
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
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
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