Alpha Five Version 9 Platinum

GCN Lab review: Nonprogrammers will have a hard time with Alpha Five, but they can still create powerful applications without scripting

GCN

If you have all the time in the world to learn a personal database, Alpha Five Version 9 Platinum is the one for you.

I knew from the beginning that this was going to be a challenge when the 'Alpha Five Made Easy' user manual weighed in at 961 pages and about 10 pounds. You can tell a lot about a database by the amount of reading material associated with it. The second book that came with the $399 Alpha Five better described the reason for so much reading material: Alpha Five is a lot more than a database. It's also a tool for designing extensive Web applications with little or no programming. All you need is time to read and learn.

[IMGCAP(1)]Like FileMaker, Alpha Five has a big developer community. Unlike FileMaker, Alpha Five provides far fewer templates and seems to target intermediate to advanced users. Alpha Five has wizards called Genies that are intuitive and easy to use. However, they are less refined than their FileMaker counterparts, and the interface is a little more cluttered than FileMaker's or Access'.

Nonprogrammers will have a hard time with Alpha Five, but they can still create powerful applications without scripting. All you have to do is what I did ' spend a lot of time reading help files and studying the examples. I can figure most things out on my own, but I needed help with Alpha Five, particularly in understanding the Web applications it is capable of.

Alpha Five looks sleek and modern in spite of a more cluttered environment than its competitors'. Users can add buttons and images that are conditional on other data in browse views. For example, I could easily add a button that would send an e-mail to a person in that row. Or I could configure a button to bring up a photo from a connected personnel database.

Other important features in Alpha Five include a Cascading Style Sheet builder for better Web form designs. Strong Client Server desktop support now lets you work directly with SQL Server databases. Additionally, a query optimizer for working with SQL data is new to Version 9, as is the ability to build highly responsive Web 2.0 applications in much less time than in Visual Studio, Ruby or PHP.

Perhaps the most important feature to federal, state and local government agencies is a well-designed Web Security framework. This lets you define privileges for users and groups to pages or groups of pages in your Web application.

A new feature called super controls lets you place live reports, Web content and PDF documents directly into forms. Alpha Five can create virtual tables, an Extensible Markup Language parser and HTML memo fields with hyperlinks.

FileMaker's simple-to-learn nature coupled with its robust template library, SQL capabilities and instant Web publishing make it a better choice than Alpha Five for typical small-agency users. But Alpha Five has FileMaker beat when it comes to advanced features such as script building and Web application development. Alpha Five is probably going to be the choice of developers, and for good reason.

Alpha Software, (617) 838-4488 www.alphafive.com

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