Review: Alpha Five

Alpha Five v6
Alpha Software
Burlington, Massachusetts
(781) 229-4500

I last wrote about Alpha Five just about two years ago. At the time, I saw them as a credible alternative to Microsoft Access for building desktop database applications. In the ensuing two years, Access hasn't advanced much, but the Alpha Software people just put out a new version with substantially improved features. If you're writing line-of-business applications backed by a database, it's definitely worth a look.

Of course, the features from previous versions are here: the ActionScript scripting language for fast automation, the ability to interoperate with Microsoft Office or other OLE applications, e-mail integration (better than ever in this release, with the ability to write custom handlers for incoming e-mail)), a form designer, and excellent customizability for the user interface including some spiffy toolbar editing tools. The program remains easy to use and fast. You use "genies" for most programming tasks, and the table, form, and report designers let you customize just about everything. If you need further customization, there's an underlying XBasic language you can get into.

The biggest advance in the new version is the addition of Web accessibility to Alpha Five databases. This is not just a matter of exporting HTML pages. Rather, Alpha Five now has its own built-in Web server (or you can use it with Apache) and the philosophy of point-and-click programming has been extended to building entire Web applications. If you could build a desktop database, you can now build a Web database, and without writing any code. With things like menus, lookups, customizable grids, and more built in, this is an extremely powerful facility.

In addition to its own database format, Alpha Five can now use data from any ADO or ODBC accessible database - which means you get to use all these yummy tools with your Access, Oracle, or SQL Server data, among other possibilities (or MySQL, for that matter, if you'd prefer a free alternative). Other improvements include an HTML editor, object-level security, and a bunch of new actions, dialogs, and other components.

These days many of the developers I interact with are involved in writing complex source code for extremely obscure problems. But it's worth remembering that you don't have to write 10,000 lines of source code for every problem. In a large range of cases, a tool like Alpha Five will make you immensely more productive than any number of bare-code IDEs. There's a trial version available from the Alpha Web site.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.