Over the past couple of years, some hard-core heads-down data-oriented applications have moved to the Web as rich Internet applications (RIAs), thanks to AJAX, Flash, Flex, Silverlight, or similar technologies. From a user's point of view, this is great; the Web applications are available from anywhere and are typically close enough in performance and response time to desktop applications to be acceptable substitutes. From a developer's point of view, this is not so great; RIAs have typically been significantly harder and more labor-intensive to write and test than traditional desktop and Web applications.
Alpha Software, a small but mature (founded in 1982) database application development company, is aiming to change this. Last week I spent two days at an Alpha Five Version 10 (V10) training event and saw all sorts of impressive AJAX sites that could be built very quickly with a minimum of code.
About half the attendees had been working with pre-beta versions of the IDE, and they were uniformly sold on it before walking in the door; the other half were seeing it for the first time. Developers that I talked to during the conference were generally impressed with the technology, even if they had come wondering if the product would be flexible enough for their needs; the presentations were frequently interrupted by applause at especially impressive features.
The V10 Web design system involves specifying components with a GUI, testing them interactively, laying them out in a structured way, adding small amounts of HTML and graphics as needed, and modifying the properties on the client and server using small snippets of code to respond to various events. The centerpiece of the system is a data grid with more flexibility than I've seen in any other grid, with the possible exception of the PowerBuilder DataWindow.
The screenshots below illustrate some of the capabilities of the system. In addition, videos of "feature peeks" can be found on Alpha Software's blog. Click on the images below (except the first) to see full-resolution screenshots.
The Grid was one of the centers of attention at the conference.
The shot above shows a grid with an AJAX row expander and a pop-up HTML editor.
This is "just" a grid with a row expander.
Most components and builders have a live preview mode, as shown above for the tabbed UI builder.
When designing a tabbed layout, you work in a structured way using buttons, controls, and containers. More free-form design can be done on A5W pages, which are similar to PHP or ASP pages.