A few years ago, self-proclaimed nondeveloper Kevin Smith worked for a software company that tried to build a project tracking tool using Microsoft .Net. Some 15 developers spent a year with little success. "After burning though a million dollars and still without a product, the company called it quits," says Smith, now managing partner of NextWave Performance, a consultancy in Denver, Colo.
NextWave took up the idea but ran into similar timetable and budgetary overruns. "I said, 'I'll learn to code and do it myself,'" a frustrated Smith recalls. His search eventually led him to Coghead, a Web app for code-free development of Web apps -- and Smith built key components of the tracking tool in less than 30 days.
[ InfoWorld Test Center shows the pros and cons of Coghead in an in-depth review; for an online app builder with a Microsoft twist, see the review of Caspio Bridge. | Read about other "Application builders in the sky." ]
"I was showing my business partner some of this stuff the other day and he turned to me and asked, 'How do traditional developers stay in business?'" Smith says. "It's such a game changer. I think it turns developers from wizards who read the magic book and know the syntax into business analysts who understand the processes and goals of what they're trying to achieve."
Such views may be a bit far-fetched, but it's true that do-it-yourself application development has never been more appealing. With IT budgets being squeezed, along with the growing dysfunctional relationship between IT staff and managers, it's no wonder the promise of cheap "codeless" development that sidesteps IT resonates loudly with businesspeople. "We also have a whole new wave of business users that are not intimidated by the notion of application development," says Mike Gualtieri, analyst at Forrester.
Coghead and others, such as Caspio, Zoho, and Wufoo, are just the latest attempt to bring application development to the masses. From Cobol to 4GL to scripting languages to, recently, Microsoft's Oslo for model-based software development, the Holy Grail is to make it easier for nonprogrammers to program. Now Coghead CEO Paul McNamara believes cloud computing tools increase the number of potential software builders in the world tenfold.
Whipping up a Web app
There are areas where codeless software development makes sense, mostly with business apps that have multiple records, business logic, notifications, and other straightforward features. For instance, Jim Heagney, an accounting and systems consultant, tapped his experience with Great Plains and other ERP integration projects to develop a virtual-events scheduler, called Inexpo.
Using Coghead, Heagney, another self-described nondeveloper, built Inexpo to manage all of the activities that go into producing a virtual, Web-based event, including order entries, invoices, expenses, purchase-order requisitions, and other transactions. Inexpo even interfaces with an accounting system "in all the right spots," Heagney says. Working part time, he built the application in only six months.