3 tools to accelerate web application development

The demand for web-based applications is being fueled by the adoption of new portable devices and users who are eschewing their traditional desktops for the benefits of work anywhere portability. However, demands for new web-based applications are outstripping the supply - creating the question – Can today’s programmers find alternative development environments to build applications that are mobile and multi-platform?

Perhaps the answer to that question lies with rapid application development (RAD) tools, which bring new tools and processes to the development table that change the fundamentals of building applications. RAD tools can replace the laborious manual coding processes with automated design and coding. That automation delivers a number of benefits, including expediting application development to improving the agility of change management. That agility will prove to be important for those developers looking to build web applications and desktop applications at the same time, as part of a transformation from legacy applications. From a coder’s perspective, write once, run anywhere is going to be a critical capability.

Automation further speeds application development and delivery by eliminating archaic waterfall methodologies, which are dependent on the skills of isolated individuals. What’s more, modern RAD tools embrace the Spiral method of application development, which unlike the Waterfall method, emphasizes an iterative approach and can involve the end user in the development process.

Spiral development allows a project to be broken up into smaller pieces, which can be developed concurrently and prototyped in manageable pieces. Each part of the solution can then be tested independently and then wrapped together to complete the project. The Spiral development methodology goes hand in hand with RAD to reduce the time needed to develop applications, while increasing flexibility.

While the market penetration of RAD tools has grown significantly over the last few years, the biggest catalyst for growth likely comes from changes in how applications are delivered to end users. Recently, there has been a significant shift from desktop applications to web applications, which has created a new subset of tools and development methodologies. Those newer tools allow developers to focus on delivering applications via the web using AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript and XML). AJAX is a collection of technologies that allow developers to web-enable applications and run those applications in a web browser.

For developers, choosing a development suite that incorporates RAD capabilities is the first step for moving applications to the web in a cost effective fashion. A suitable RAD environment should incorporate methodologies for creating web-enabled applications, interaction with databases, and should feature an Integrated Development Environment (IDE). While not unique, that combination of features helps to narrow the choice down to a few development suites and products.

Developers looking to delve into the world of web application development can turn to products such as Alpha Five V10 from AlphaSoftware, FileMaker Pro Advanced from File Maker and Real Studio from Real Software.

Alpha Five V10:

Alpha Software has been offering database and programming tools since 1992. Over the years, the company’s database management product has evolved from a Foxpro/Dbase III competitor into a 4GL then into a complete DBMS and desktop RAD tool.

Prior versions (before V10) focused on creating desktop applications for Microsoft Windows environments. Alpha Five V9 started to change the development paradigm by including some web application development capabilities and an application server component that was able to serve up hand coded AJAX applications to users.

    Alpha 5 V10.5 www.alphasoftware.com starts at $349 pros:
    • Offers comprehensive tool set for developing applications for windows or web
    • Drag and drop simplicity for populating forms with database fields
    • Integrated debugger
    • web development and desktop application development use different paradigms
    • upgrade bundles and/or application server software purchases required for larger deployments

    Alpha5 V10.5 offers a good foundation for creating applications for the web, extensive help, demos and wizards simplify the basics, while not preventing the creation of complex applications.

Alpha Five V10 changes the game by incorporating a form of codeless AJAX development, enabling developers to create Web-based applications with rich user interface controls without having to deal with complicated hand coding. Alpha Five V10 includes an impressive array of application development tools, which can create applications for two separate environments, the Windows Desktop and AJAX.

The desktop development tools and the web application tools are two separate pieces of the Alpha Five V10 development environment and use different methodologies for designing applications. However, there is some commonality, such as the ability to create applications without writing code. Both environments support drag and drop population of forms with predefined objects (such as fields, buttons, controls, lookups, combo boxes, etc.), eliminating hand coding.

Developers can rely on numerous wizards (known as "genies" by Alpha 5) to automate many manual functions, such as database design, forms design and other normally hand coded capabilities. Those focusing on web application development will have to familiarize themselves with the Alpha 5 "grid", which contains objects that designate what functions run. Most developers will find the "grid" intuitive, allowing them to quickly "paint" their various lookups, tables, fields, calculations and processes onto the grid, all without having to write a single line of code.

That allows programmers to setup simple applications in a matter of minutes and deliver those applications via the web almost instantaneously. Ideally, developers will want to explore all of the capabilities of the product, which are extensive, before laying out complex applications for web deployments.

The company offers extensive documentation, online support, tons of examples and many how to videos, which all help to reduce the learning curve. That curve can be significant, as that Alpha Five is probably unlike any tool that a developer may have used in the past.

What is nice about Alpha Five V10 is that it is a complete solution. The product offers a full complement of development tools, and bundles in a web application server that serves up any Alpha Five Ajax applications to most browsers. Most will find that Alpha Five V10 proves to be one of the quickest ways to build a web application, ultimately saving time, money and frustration.

Alpha 5 V10.5 offers grid like views in to databases during web development, making it easier to visualize the final product.
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